South Korea Surrounds Runaway Soldier Who Killed Five Comrades

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean military authorities on Sunday surrounded a soldier who fled his North Korea border outpost after killing five comrades and were trying to persuade him to surrender, a defense official said Sunday.

One platoon leader was wounded when the runaway soldier, identified only by his surname Yim, fired on the military personnel closing in on him, according to a defense ministry official who asked not to be named, citing department rules. The official said troops fired back. It wasn't clear how officers were communicating with Yim.

Yim opened fire Saturday night with his standard issue K2 assault rifle at an outpost near the North Korean border in Gangwon province, east of Seoul, killing five fellow soldiers and wounding seven others, the military said.

Image: South Korean soldiers search comrade accused of rampage
South Korean soldiers take position on the roof of a private house on Sunday during the search for a conscript soldier who is on the run after a shooting incident in Goseong, South Korea. Ahn Young-joon / AP

Villagers in a nearby area were warned not to leave their houses. The village head, Jang Seok-kwon, said that he heard gunshots ring out about 10 times.

Yim, who was scheduled to be discharged from the military in September, fled with his weapon, but it wasn't clear how much live ammunition he had.

A Defense Ministry official confirmed Yim was considered a "protected and watched-on soldier," which means he needed special attention among servicemen. According to the official, the South Korean military assigns such status based on servicemen's periodical personality test.

Yim was designated a grade A protected soldier in April last year — one with a high risk of suicide attempt or inducing other accidents who could not serve at heavily guarded outposts — then improved to grade B status last November. It means he was being watched with focused attention, but could serve at the outposts at the commander's discretion.

In 2011, a 19-year-old marine corporal went on a shooting rampage at a Gwanghwa Island base, just south of the maritime border with North Korea. Military investigators later said that corporal was angry about being shunned and slighted and showed signs of mental illness before the shooting.

— The Associated Press