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Asia Minute: North Korean Defector’s Surprise

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Last week saw one of the most dramatic incidents in years at the border of North and South Korea. A North Korean soldier escaped to the South—dashing across the border in a shower of gunfire. He survived, but doctors treating his wounds were shocked by what they found. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

South Korean military officials say more than 40 bullets were fired at the North Korean soldier as he ran across the border after ditching a jeep in the Demilitarized Zone.

Doctors say he was wounded in at least five places—but that was not what surprised them.

When they opened him up to treat his intestinal wounds, they found parasitic worms.

Dozens of them….one nearly a foot long.

The parasites are complicating the soldier’s recovery, but government officials say they tell a broader story about conditions in North Korea.

Reuters quotes a North Korean agricultural expert as saying the use of chemical fertilizer has been discontinued in the country because of the cost.

Instead, human waste is used as fertilizer—leading to widespread contamination of vegetables.

The New York Times reports South Korea had widespread parasitic infections as late as the 1970’s—affecting more than 80 percent of the population.

But a national health campaign greatly reduced those cases.

Today, poor nutrition is a hallmark of North Korean defectors.

The Times says the wounded soldier is believed to be in his late twenties—at 5’5” and weighing 132 pounds—three inches shorter and more than 20 pounds lighter than an average high school senior in South Korea.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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