A young Soviet man whose defection touched off a gunbattle on the border between North and South Korea last week said in a videotaped interview today that he decided to defect two years ago and had to run a zigzag to avoid bullets when he made his break.
U.S. military officers played the tape today at a meeting with North Korean representatives at the truce village of Panmunjom to support claims that Vasiliy Yakovlevich Matuzok, 22, crossed from North to South voluntarily.
Looking relaxed, Matuzok responded in English to questions by military investigators. Matuzok commented, "The only thing that I really regret is that one ROK South Korean soldier died because of me."
Three North Korean soldiers also died. One American and at least one North Korean were wounded in the gunbattle at Panmunjom, in which North Korean soldiers appear to have crossed into southern territory in an attempt to bring Matuzok back.
The North Korean representative, Maj. Gen. Lee Tae Ho, reiterated his government's charge that Matuzok was abducted by American and South Korean guards after inadvertently crossing the North-South demarcation line, which runs through the center of Panmunjom.
Both sides expressed concern during the meeting that the incident would hamper separate negotiations between North Korea and South Korea to open trade and reunite families divided by the Korean War.
But neither threatened to cancel or delay the talks
North Korea's Central News Agency today quoted a North Korean colonel as calling for "blood-for-blood" revenge during a funeral service for the North's dead. "Our hearts are burning with bitter hatred and revengeful thought against the U.S. imperialist aggressors," he was quoted as saying.
Analysts in Seoul noted that much of the North's invective has been directed at the United States rather than South Korea. That would leave the door open for continued contacts with the South, it was argued.
In South Korea, meanwhile, Culture and Information Minister Lee Jin Hie denounced the North for an "inhumane atrocity." In an address to South Korean journalists, he said Seoul would continue to talk to the North but warned of "illusion and unrealistic optimism."
In the taped interview, Matuzok said he had made a decision to defect two years ago while studying at the Moscow Institute of International Relations. Western sources in Seoul have described it as an elite academy that trains many members of the Soviet diplomatic service.
Matuzok did not discuss his motives on the tape. A western diplomat in Seoul, where Matuzok is undergoing extensive debriefing, said it resulted from "an intellectual exercise in which he rejected the Soviet system."
Matuzok described himself as an apprentice at the Soviet Embassy in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
Matuzok said he came to Panmunjom with a tour group. He stood at the demarcation line, handed his camera to another tourist and asked that his picture be taken.
"Then I sprinted" across the line, he said. North Korean guards followed him and opened fire, he said.
"When I was here," he said, pointing to a spot on a map of Panmunjom, "gunfire erupted and I had to run, to run zigzag here, this place," he said.
Today's meeting was the 426th session of the Military Armistice Commission, composed of representatives from both sides of the Korean conflict. It supervises the truce agreement that ended the war in 1953.
U.S. Rear Adm. Charles F. Horne III spoke for the United Nations Command, which coordinates military forces on the South Korean side.
Horne said North Koreans had penetrated about 150 yards into South Korean territory during the incident. He displayed North Korean hats and spent cartridges that he said had beeen left behind.
Horne blamed the incident on the "undisciplined and lawless behavior of your guards."
The wounded American was Pvt. Michael Allen Burgoyne of DeWitt, Mich., who told reporters he was hit in the neck after opening fire on a group of North Korean guards who were chasing Matuzok.
Matuzok was reported still in Seoul awaiting action on his request to go to the United States.