A U.S. Army colonel indicated to North Korea today that a Soviet citizen who crossed into South Korea on Friday, touching off a border gun battle that killed four soldiers, will not be returned to the North.
Col. Donald W. Boose Jr. of the U.N. Command told North Korean Army officers at the truce village of Panmunjom, where the shooting took place, that Vasily Yakovlevich Matuzok "has indicated firmly that he does not wish to return to your side."
One South Korean soldier was killed and one U.S. soldier was wounded in the shooting, according to the U.N. Command. North Korea said today that three of its soldiers died and one was seriously wounded.
The wounded American was identified as Pvt. Michael Allen Burgoyne, 20, of Portland, Mich. He was reported to be in good condition.
Panmunjom, located at the center of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula, has been the site of talks between the two sides since the Korean War ended in 1953. It was reported to be quiet but tense today.
In today's meeting, both sides blamed the other for the violence. North Korean delegate Col. Kim Ryon Ki said that his side acted only after Matuzok inadvertently crossed the demarcation line in Panmunjom and was abducted by guards. He condemned the United States and South Korea for "a most barbarous act."
Boose, however, said that Matuzok defected of his own volition.
"The subsequent action of the United Nations Command guards was solely to protect Mr. Matuzok and themselves," Boose said. He accused the North of violating the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
There was no mention in today's meeting of negotiations on trade and family reunification being conducted between North and South Korea. That suggested that neither side wishes them to be disrupted by the incident.
The two sides adjourned today by agreeing to discuss the incident and ways to prevent recurrence at another meeting of higher level officers. But they failed to agree on a date.
South Korean officials referred questions about Matuzok today to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, but a spokesman for it could not be reached. Matuzok, said to be a guide for Soviet tourists visiting Panmunjom, reportedly has asked for political asylum in the United States.
South Korean Minister of Culture and Information Lee Jin Hie today condemned the North Korean actions as "a serious violation of the armistice agreement and a provocative criminal act that threatens peace."
A U.N. Command spokesman, meanwhile, said that as many as 110 soldiers from both sides took part in the incident.
He said it began at 11:45 a.m., when Matuzok crossed the demarcation line. It is marked by a concrete strip on the ground running through the "Joint Security Area," which includes a collection of wooden buildings where talks are held.
Matuzok immediately was pursued across the line by six North Korean Army guards, who drew pistols and began shooting as they ran, the command said. Approximately 24 other North Koreans joined in, some of them firing AK47 automatic rifles.
Approximately 80 South Korean and U.S. military personnel took part in the response, the command said, including a "quick reaction force" stationed just outside the negotiating area.
North Koreans penetrated to the vicinity of a garden about 30 yards inside the South's zone, the command said. Most of the shooting died out within 10 minutes, but sporadic firing continued for another half hour until a truce requested by the North Korean side went into effect.
Currently, each side is allowed to maintain 30 armed guards and five officers inside the joint security area at any given time.
Yesterday, Matuzok was reported to have told South Korean authorities that a second Soviet citizen had attempted to defect with him but had been recaptured by the North Koreans. However, a U.N. Command spokesman said today that he had no knowledge of a second defector.