El Chapo’s son led dramatic rescue of his half brother in Mexico battle

El Chapo’s son led dramatic rescue of his half brother in Mexico battle
By Anthony Esposito and Ana Isabel Martinez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Ivan Archivaldo Guzman, the leader of Los Chapitos wing of the Sinaloa Cartel, was behind the assault on security forces that prompted the release of his half-brother from a house in the city of Culiacan last week, a top Mexican official said.

The men’s father is Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most infamous drug kingpin, who himself slipped away from authorities on multiple occasions before being sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States this year.

Younger brother Ovidio Guzman was briefly captured by Mexican security forces on Oct. 17 in an upscale neighborhood of Culiacan, until hundreds of heavily-armed Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced his release.

The botched raid has called into question Mexico’s security strategy and put pressure on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has insisted that the release was necessary to protect the lives of civilians and security personnel.

Questions have circulated about the role of the older Guzman brother in launching the fierce counterattack led by gunmen in armored vehicles armed with mounted weapons that left parts of the city smoldering.

Late on Thursday, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said Ivan Archivaldo had played a key part.

“He was one of those leading the mobilization of various criminal elements in Culiacan,” Durazo said, while denying reports that the elder brother had also been briefly captured.

“Ivan Archivaldo was not at the home that was taken over by (security) personnel who participated in this operation,” he said.

A senior security official told Reuters that Ovidio was found in the house with his partner, their two daughters, and two guards. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sinaloa Cartel, along with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, are Mexico’s largest and most powerful drug trafficking organizations.

Since El Chapo left the scene, his partner Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada has taken on a coordinating “godfather” role overseeing several factions in the organization, an official at the U.S. Justice Department told Reuters.

Four brothers, led by Ivan Archivaldo, form one group collectively known as Los Chapitos, or “little Chapos.” El Chapo’s brother heads another unit, and veteran trafficker Rafael Caro-Quintero leads another, the official said. In a 2018 interview with a Mexican magazine, Caro-Quintero denied he was still a drug trafficker.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt
By Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing

CAIRO (Reuters) – The 17-year-old South Sudanese refugee finally managed to escape after three months as a prisoner in a Cairo apartment where she was repeatedly gang raped, only to realize that she had become pregnant by one of her attackers.

She is one of a growing number of African migrant and refugee women in the Egyptian capital who report abuse, in what rights groups say has become an epidemic of sexual violence that has worsened in recent months.

Reuters met five women from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia at a community center in Cairo, each of whom said she was a victim of violent sexual assault.

The 17-year old South Sudanese woman said she was snatched by strangers in a poor neighborhood and brought by a taxi to another area, where a man locked her up in an apartment for three months and repeatedly raped her with friends.

“I tried several times to escape,” she said, adding that she finally managed to flee when her captor left a key in the house. She asked not to be identified but agreed to be filmed provided that her face was not visible.

A Sudanese woman who gave her name as Bakhtia said she was assaulted by a stranger on the street in what then became a gang attack.

“He touched me, after which I slapped him on the face,” she said. “Immediately, around four other people (came over), each one grabbing me from a different body part. I tried to defend myself, but how can I defend myself?”

Three other women who spoke to Reuters said they were attacked while cleaning houses as domestic workers. Two were raped and one sexually assaulted. They asked not to be filmed or quoted directly.

The United Nations estimates around 500,000 migrants, half of them refugees, live in Egypt. Many arrived aiming to reach Europe via Israel or by boat to Turkey, routes that have been largely closed by tougher security measures.

Jobs are scarce. With austerity measures having driven up inflation since last year, many have found it more difficult to pay rent. Increasingly they have become homeless or are forced to share rooms with strangers, making them more vulnerable to sexual assault.

Cairo was named most dangerous megacity for women in an international perception poll carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment after seven men were arrested for attacking women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations in 2014. Tougher sentences have been imposed for sex crimes.

But rights groups say such measures have done little to deter attacks against African migrants, who often have no recourse to the police or family to protect them.

“From two to three (complaints of abuse) a week they were going to seven a week,” said Laurent De Boeck, head of the International Organization for Migration in Egypt, who blamed the surging cost of renting a room.

“The situation of them not having protection of a house, made them more vulnerable to the situation because they were basically in families in the street.”

Fatma Abdelkader, who works with local aid group Tadamon which runs the community center, said cases of sex abuse had increased in the past six months, with attackers seeming to seek out African women as prey.

“The darker the skin tone, the more susceptible the women are to violence,” she said.

(Reporting by Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Peter Graff)

Leader of white nationalist gang escapes Arkansas jail

Wesley Gullett appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A white nationalist gang leader facing federal charges escaped from an Arkansas jail along with another inmate on Thursday, officials said.

Wesley Gullett, who prosecutors earlier this year said was the head of the New Aryan Empire, was found to be missing early on Wednesday at the Jefferson County Jail in Pine Bluff, a city about 30 miles (50 km) south of Little Rock, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.

The New Aryan Empire began as a prison gang and branched out beyond prisons, with members committing violence to support a large drug-trafficking operation, the Department of Justice said in February.

Christopher Sanderson appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

Christopher Sanderson appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

The other inmate missing was Christopher Sanderson, 34, who was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Marshals Service said. His prior convictions include possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and theft.

Federal prosecutors in 2017 charged Gullett and more than 40 other people with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, according to court documents.

This past February, a federal grand jury named other defendants and brought additional charges. For Gullett, those new charges included attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gullett, 30, who is from Russellville, Arkansas, has pleaded not guilty.

The Marshals Service has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Gullett and a $5,000 reward for Sanderson and agency officials warned that both men should be considered armed and dangerous.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Wildfires kill at least 74 near Athens, families embrace as flames close in

A woman reacts as she tries to find her dog, following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Wildfires sweeping through a Greek resort town killed at least 74 people, officials said, including families with children found clasped in a last embrace as they tried to flee the flames.

The inferno was by far Greece’s worst since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati, east of Athens, late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday.

“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning.

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, the head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

The strong smell of charred buildings and trees lingered in the air in parts of Mati on Tuesday, where white smoke rose from smoldering fires.

Residents wandered the streets, some searching for their burned-out cars, others for their pets. The eerie silence was punctured by fire-fighting helicopters and the chatter of rescue crews.

A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead people on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach.

“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes,” fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

Coastguard vessels and other boats rescued almost 700 people who had managed to get to the shoreline and pulled another 19 survivors and six dead bodies from the sea, the coastguard said.

In total, at least 60 people were killed and the death toll was expected to rise, Evangelos Bournous, mayor of nearby Rafina-Pikermi, said.

It was unclear how many people remained unaccounted for as coastguard vessels combed beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, the government’s spokesman said.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Of the at least 94 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, and 23 were children, they added.

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

“KILLER FIRE”

Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, is a popular spot for Greek holiday-makers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. Poland said two of its citizens, a mother and her son, were among the victims.

Greece’s fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire at Mati had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control.

The service urged residents to report missing relatives and friends. Some took to Twitter and Facebook, posting photographs of young children and elderly couples they hoped to locate.

Newspapers printed banner headlines including “Killer Fire” and “Hell”.

Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links.

Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.

“Our thoughts go to Greece and the victims of the terrible fires,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in tweets published in French and Greek. Forest fires are also raging in Sweden.

Authorities said they would use an unmanned drone from the United States to monitor and track any suspicious activity.

Tsipras and Greek officials have expressed misgivings at the fact that several major fires broke out at the same time.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create the current tinder-box conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.

A hillside of homes was gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.

On Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as another wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece’s busiest motorways, halting trains and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Michele Kambas, George Georgiopoulos and Costas Baltas in Athens and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Police search schools in hunt for Nashville Waffle House shooter

Police hunting for a gunman who fled naked after killing four people at a Nashville Waffle House searched public schools through the night to make sure they would be safe when they reopen on Monday.

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) – Police hunting for a gunman who fled naked after killing four people at a Nashville Waffle House searched public schools through the night to make sure they would be safe when they reopen on Monday.

All Metropolitan Nashville public schools were searched and will be checked again before school opens, officials said on the department’s Facebook page. Extra security will be in place at school bus stops. Schools will be on “lock-out,” barring all visitors.

“Metro Nashville Public Schools Parents always have the final decision on whether to send their child to school,” the statement said.

Police identified the victims. Slain outside the restaurant in Nashville’s Antioch neighborhood shortly before 3:30 a.m. Sunday were Waffle House cook Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, and patron Joe R. Perez, 20, police said. Inside, the shooter killed patrons DeEbony Groves, 21, and Akilah Dasilva, 23.

“Please say a prayer for my family for today is the hardest day of my life. Me, my husband and sons are broken right now with this loss. Our lives are shattered,” Perez’s mother Trisha Perez posted on Facebook.

Dasilva’s mother Shaundelle Brooks told CBS News affiliate WTVF her son was a student at Middle Tennessee State University pursuing music engineering: “He meant the world to us. He was humble, kind, compassionate, outgoing and very creative.”

Groves was a Belmont University senior who studied social work and was described by her high school basketball coach Kim Kendrick on CBS News affiliate WTVF as a tenacious player.

Two wounded patrons, Shanita Waggoner, 21, and Sharita Henderson, 24, were being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, both listed in stable condition early on Monday. Others were cut by shattered glass.

One diner, James Shaw Jr., 29, was grazed by a bullet as he hid near a restroom before he wrestled the AR-15 rifle from the gunman, police said. Police credited his action with saving lives. At a news conference, Shaw said he was no hero, adding: “I just wanted to live.”

Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, Illinois, is shown in this undated photo obtained April 22, 2018. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/Handout via REUTERS

Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, Illinois, is shown in this undated photo obtained April 22, 2018. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/Handout via REUTERS

Metropolitan Nashville Police Field Captain Daniel Newbern said the suspected shooter, Travis Reinking, 29, originally from Tazewell County, Illinois, faces multiple murder charges. Police believe he is still armed with a pistol.

Police disclosed no known motive for the attack by Reinking, who was naked except for a green jacket when he got out of his pickup truck and started shooting.

As the shooter ran off, he discarded the jacket, which contained two additional ammunition magazines for the AR-15, according to police.

(Writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, and Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Michael Perry and Bernadette Baum)

Thousands stream out of Syrian rebel enclave as army advances

A child sleeps in a bag in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Thousands of Syrians fled a rebel pocket in eastern Ghouta on Thursday and crossed by foot to army positions, the largest such outflow in almost a month of fighting, as troops seized more ground in the opposition stronghold.

Men, women and children walked along a dirt road to army lines on the outskirts of Hammouriyeh town, footage on state TV showed. They carried blankets, bags, and suitcases on their shoulders, some of them weeping. A group crammed in the back of pickup truck waved Syrian state flags.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12,500 people left toward government territory. They came out of Hammouriyeh and Jisreen, which the army advanced into on Thursday, and other towns nearby, the UK-based monitor said.

A Reuters witness and state-run media separately said thousands were leaving.

“Every hour, over 800 people are leaving,” Russia’s RIA news agency cited Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin as saying.

It marked the first time such large crowds of people fled the enclave since the government launched a fierce offensive to recapture it nearly a month ago.

Last week, pro-government forces splintered rebel territory into three separate pockets in eastern Ghouta, the largest opposition stronghold near the capital.

A man gestures as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A man gestures as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Earlier this week, smaller groups of sick and wounded people were evacuated from another zone further north, under a deal the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction that controls it and Russia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said 25 aid trucks entered that besieged zone and was headed to the town of Douma. “This is just a little of what these families need,” the ICRC in Syria said in a tweet.

ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said the convoy, which entered through the al-Wafideen crossing with the United Nations, contained food aid for 26,100 people for one month, among other items.

The trucks had 5,220 ICRC food parcels and 5,220 World Food Programme flour bags, Jaquemet said. A parcel can feed a family of five for one month.

“STATE’S EMBRACE”

The Syrian army seized swathes of farmland and factories in the northeast of Hammouriyeh, said a military media unit run by Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Damascus.

Wael Olwan, spokesman for the Failaq al-Rahman rebel faction that controls the southern pocket, accused the army in a tweet of storming Hammouriyeh and exploiting the plight of civilians fleeing the bombs.

The Observatory said government warplanes and shelling had pounded the Failaq zone overnight. Air strikes on the town of Zamalka there killed 12 people on Thursday, it said.

The army’s onslaught of air and artillery strikes have battered eastern Ghouta for almost a month, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring thousands more, the United Nations has said.

Damascus and its key ally Moscow say their forces only target armed militants and seek to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over civilians and to stop mortar fire on Damascus. They have accused the factions of preventing residents from leaving, which the fighters deny.

“Praise God…the families are coming out to suitable locations to the state’s embrace,” an army officer said on state television on Thursday.

State TV showed interviews with people crossing the front, in which they said the Ghouta insurgents had not let them out before. They were coming through a crossing in Hammouriyeh, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) would move them to temporary shelters in rural Damascus, it said.

Dozens of people crowded into trucks and tractors waved or chanted as they drove by. The sound of explosions briefly rang out in the background.

One man cried and thanked the Syrian army in the broadcast. Another from Hammouriyeh said militants had attacked somebody who tried raising the Syrian flag there in recent weeks. “They fired at him and brought down the flag,” the unnamed man said.

The Reuters witness said some arrived at government positions in the nearby town of Beit Sawa on wheelchairs.

A Hammouriyeh resident, who gave his name as Abu al-Nour, told Reuters the had been in contact with people in army territory since the offensive started to get civilians out.

“For eight days, we have coordinated with the soldiers, telling them we want to get the civilians out,” he said.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Ellen Francis and Dahlia Nehme in Beirut, Kinda Mekieh and Firas Makdesi in Damascus, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Writing by Ellen Francisediting by John Stonestreet/Tom Perry/William Maclean)

Venezuelan migrants pose humanitarian problem in Brazil

Venezuelan migrants pose humanitarian problem in Brazil

By Anthony Boadle

BOA VISTA, Brazil (Reuters) – Last August, Victor Rivera, a 36-year-old unemployed baker, left his hometown in northern Venezuela and made the two-day journey by road to the remote Amazonian city of Boa Vista, Brazil.

Although work is scarce in the city of 300,000 people, slim prospects in Boa Vista appeal more to Rivera than life back home, where his six children often go hungry and the shelves of grocery stores and hospitals are increasingly bare.

“I see no future in Venezuela,” said Rivera, who seeks odd jobs at traffic lights in the small state capital just over 200 km (124 miles) from Brazil’s border with the Andean country.

Countries across Latin America and beyond have received a growing number of Venezuelans fleeing economic hardship, crime and what critics call an increasingly authoritarian government.

The once-prosperous country, home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is struggling with a profound recession, widespread unemployment, chronic shortages and inflation that the opposition-led Congress said could soon top 2,000 percent.

At least 125 people died this year amid clashes among government opponents, supporters and police.

As conditions there worsen, nearby cities like Boa Vista are struggling with one of the biggest migrations in recent Latin American history. With limited infrastructure, social services and jobs to offer migrants, Brazilian authorities fear a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.

In Roraima, the rural state of which Boa Vista is the capital, the governor last week decreed a “social emergency,” putting local services on alert for mounting health and security demands.

“Shelters are already crowded to their limit,” said George Okoth-Obbo, operations chief for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, after a visit there. “It is a very tough situation.”

He noted the crush of migrants also hitting Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean country to Venezuela’s north, and Colombia, the Andean neighbor to the west, where hundreds of thousands have fled.

Not even Venezuela’s government knows for certain how many of its 30 million people have fled in recent years. Some sociologists have estimated the number to be as high as 2 million, although President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government disputes that figure.

BRAZIL “NOT READY”

Unlike earlier migration, when many Venezuelan professionals left for markets where their services found strong demand, many of those leaving now have few skills or resources. By migrating, then, they export some of the social ills that Venezuela has struggled to cope with.

“They’re leaving because of economic, health and public safety problems, but putting a lot of pressure on countries that have their own difficulties,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University.

International authorities are likening Venezuela’s exodus to other mass departures in Latin America’s past, like that of refugees who fled Haiti after a 2010 earthquake or, worse, the 1980 flight of 125,000 Cubans by boat for the United States.

In Brazil, Okoth-Obbo said, as many as 40,000 Venezuelans have arrived. Just over half of them have applied for asylum, a bureaucratic process that can take two years.

The request grants them the right to stay in Brazil while their application is reviewed. It also gives them access to health, education and other social services.

Some migrants in Boa Vista are finding ways to get by, finding cheap accommodation or lodging in the few shelters, like a local gym, that authorities have provided. Others wander homeless, some turning to crime, like prostitution, adding law enforcement woes to the social challenges.

“We have a very serious problem that will only get worse.” said Boa Vista Mayor Teresa Surita, adding that the city’s once quiet streets are increasingly filled with poor Venezuelans.

Most migrants in Boa Vista arrive by land, traveling the southward route that is the only road crossing along more than 2,100 kms of border with Brazil.

Arriving by public transport in the Venezuelan border town of Santa Elena, they enter Brazil on foot and then take buses or hitch rides further south to Boa Vista.

Staffed only during the day, the border post in essence is open, allowing as many as 400 migrants to enter daily, according to authorities. For a state with the lowest population and smallest economy of any in Brazil, that is no small influx.

“Brazil’s government is not ready for what is coming,” said Jesús López de Bobadilla, a Catholic priest who runs a refugee center on the border. He serves breakfast of fruit, coffee and bread to hundreds of Venezuelans.

Despite a long history of immigration, Latin America’s biggest country has struggled this decade to accommodate asylum seekers from countries including Haiti and Syria. Although Brazil has granted asylum for more than 2,700 Syrians, the refugees have received scant government support even in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest state.

A senior official in Brazil’s foreign ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, said the country will not close its borders. Okoth-Obbo said his U.N. agency and Brazil’s government are discussing ways to move refugees to larger cities.

“NOW I CAN SLEEP”

Boa Vista schools have admitted about 1,000 Venezuelan children. The local hospital has no beds because of increased demand for care, including many Venezuelan pregnancies.

In July, a 10-year-old Venezuelan boy died of diphtheria, a disease absent from Roraima for years. Giuliana Castro, the state secretary for public security, said treating ill migrants is difficult because they lack stability, like a fixed address.

“There is a risk of humanitarian crisis here,” she said.

Most migrants in Boa Vista said they do not intend to return to Venezuela unless conditions there improve.

Carolina Coronada, who worked as an accountant in the northern Venezuelan city of Maracay, arrived in Brazil a year ago with her 7-year-old daughter. She has applied for residency and works at a fast-food restaurant.

While she earns less than before, and said she makes lower wages than Brazilians at the restaurant, she is happier.

“There was no milk or vaccines,” she said. “Now I can sleep at night, not worried about getting mugged.”

Others are faring worse, struggling to find work as Brazil recovers from a two-year recession, its worst in over a century.

One recent evening, dozens of young Venezuelan women walked the streets of Caimbé, a neighborhood on Boa Vista’s west side.

Camila, a 23-year-old transsexual, left Venezuela nine months ago. She said she turns tricks for about $100 a night – enough to send food, medicine and even car parts to her family.

“Things are so bad in Venezuela I could barely feed myself,” said Camila, who declined to give her last name.

Rivera, the unemployed baker, one afternoon sheltered from the equatorial sun under a mango tree. He has applied for asylum and said he is willing to miss his family as long as he can wire his earnings from gardening, painting and bricklaying home.

“It’s not enough to live on, but the little money I can send home feeds my family,” he said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle. Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Caracas. Editing by Paulo Prada.)

Escape from North Korea: video shows defector under fire

Escape from North Korea: video shows defector under fire

By Haejin Choi and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean border guard briefly crossed the border with the South in the chase for a defector last week – a violation of the ceasefire accord between North and South, a video released on Wednesday by the U.N. Command (UNC) in Seoul showed.

The North Koreans were only steps behind the young man when they shot him at least four times as he made his escape on Nov. 13. The video, filmed as the defector drove an army truck through the demilitarized zone and then abandoned the vehicle, gives a dramatic insight into his escape.

The defector, identified by a surgeon as a 24-year-old with the family name Oh, was flown by a U.S. military helicopter to a hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul. Doctors said he had regained consciousness, having had two operations to extract the bullets, and his breathing was stable and unassisted.

“He is fine,” lead surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said at a news conference in Suwon. “He is not going to die.”

A UNC official said North Korea had been informed on Wednesday that it had violated the 1953 armistice agreement, which marked the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War.

The UNC official told a news conference that a soldier from the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) had crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the border between the two Koreas, for a few seconds as others fired shots at the defecting soldier.

“The key findings of the special investigation team are that the KPA violated the armistice agreement by one, firing weapons across the MDL, and two, by actually crossing the MDL temporarily,” Chad Carroll, Director of Public Affairs for the UNC, told reporters.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the international community over its nuclear weapons program, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to the defection.

The video, released by the UNC, was produced from surveillance cameras on the southern side of the the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone. When tree cover is too dense to see the wounded defector crawling across the border, it switches to infra-red.

DESPERATE ESCAPE

The film begins with a lone dark green army jeep speeding along empty, tree-lined roads toward the border.

At one checkpoint, a North Korean guard marches impassively toward the approaching vehicle. It races by. He runs in pursuit.

After passing a memorial to North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, where tourists often gather, the jeep runs into a ditch just meters from the border, which is not clearly marked.

For several minutes the driver tries to free the vehicle, but the wheels spin uselessly in fallen leaves.

The driver abandons the vehicle and sprints away, pushing tree branches out of his way and sending leaves flying.

He scrambles up a slope to cross just seconds before more guards appear, shooting as they run.

One slides into a pile of dead leaves to open fire before running forward and appearing to briefly cross the dividing line between the two countries. He quickly turns on his heel.

The video does not show the moment the defector is hit, but he is seen lying in a pile of brush next to a concrete wall in a later edited clip.

The UNC’s Carroll said the position was still exposed to North Korean checkpoints across the border.

Allied troops operating the cameras had by then notified their commanders and a quick reaction force had assembled on the South Korean side, according to Carroll. The video does not show this force.

Infrared imagery shows two South Korean soldiers crawling through undergrowth to drag the wounded North Korean to safety, while the deputy commander of the border security unit oversees the rescue from a few meters away.

LONG RECOVERY

Doctors have conducted a series of surgeries to remove four bullets from the critically wounded soldier, who arrived at the hospital having lost a large amount of blood.

“From a medical point of view he was almost dead when he was first brought here,” said the surgeon, Lee.

Hospital officials said the man remains in intensive care.

The soldier showed signs of depression and possible trauma, in addition to a serious case of parasites that has complicated his treatment, the hospital said in a statement. Lee said last week one of the flesh-colored parasites he removed from the soldier’s digestive tract was 27 cm (10.6 in) long.

Continuing stress made the soldier hesitant to talk, but he had been cooperative, doctors said.

The patient first recovered consciousness on Sunday, and asked where he was in South Korea, Lee said. He was in “agony” when he came to, the surgeon added.

Since then doctors have played South Korean pop music for him, and American action movies including “The Transporter” from 2002.

On average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South every year, but most travel via China and numbers have fallen since Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011. It is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas. They have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The last time a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA was in 2007.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Christine Kim, and James Pearson; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Sara Ledwith)

North Korea defector ‘stabilized’ after second surgery: South Korean surgeon

North Korea defector 'stabilized' after second surgery: South Korean surgeon

By Christine Kim and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean soldier who suffered critical gunshot wounds during a defection dash over the border to South Korea this week stabilized on Wednesday after a second round of surgery, a doctor treating him said.

The soldier, whose rank and identity have not been disclosed, was flown by helicopter to hospital on Monday after his escape to South Korea in a hail of bullets fired by North Korean soldiers.

Wednesday’s surgery was “successful” in terms of staunching bleeding and the soldier had “stabilized much”, said Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of his treatment.

However, he remained unconscious and was not out of the woods, as complications from a severe hip fracture and possible infection remained major concerns, Lee said.

“We will be able to tell you after about 10 days,” Lee told reporters at a briefing, when asked about the soldier’s chances of surviving.

On Tuesday, government and military officials said the soldier was in critical condition but doctors expected him to live.

The soldier made his escape in a border “peace village” on the heavily guarded demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

At first, he sped toward the border in a four-wheel drive vehicle but was forced to abandon it and flee on foot when one of its wheels came loose, South Korean officials said earlier.

He was hit by about seven bullets before he took cover behind a South Korean structure in a Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone.

Doctors removed five bullets from him earlier and one more on Wednesday.

North Korea has remained silent on the issue, while no unusual activity has been detected at the border where the soldier defected, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

“There will need to be some questioning on why he defected after his treatment is over,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.

Monday was the first time since 2007 a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA.

(Reporting by Christine Kim and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Yuna Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets

Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean soldier is expected to survive critical wounds he received when his old comrades fired a hail of bullets at him as he made a defection dash to South Korea, the South’s government and military said on Tuesday.

The soldier had on Monday sped toward the border in a “peace village” in the heavily guarded demilitarized zone, in a four-wheel drive vehicle.

But when a wheel came loose, he fled on foot as four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at him, said Suh Wook, chief director of operations at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefing lawmakers.

“Until this morning, we heard he had no consciousness and was unable to breathe on his own but his life can be saved,” Suh said.

Surgeons had removed five bullets from the soldier’s body, leaving two inside, Suh added, to murmurs from lawmakers who said the soldier’s escape was “right out of a movie”.

The soldier took cover behind a South Korean structure in a Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

South Korean and U.S. soldiers, fearing more North Korean fire, later crawled to him to rescue him, the United Nations Command said in a separate statement.

North Korea has not said anything about the soldier. Its military had not given any indication of unusual movements on Tuesday, the South’s military said.

While on average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South every year, most travel via China and it is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas, which have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The U.N. Command, in place since the end of the war, said an investigation into the incident was being conducted.

South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo said it was the first time North Korean soldiers had fired toward the South’s side of the JSA, prompting complaints from some lawmakers that the South’s military should have returned fire.

Moon Sang-gyun, the South’s defense ministry spokesman, said military operations at the JSA were usually conducted under the orders of the U.N. Command, which is in turn under orders from the U.S. military.

INTESTINAL DAMAGE

The soldier, who was not armed, was flown in a U.N. Command helicopter to an operating theater where doctors began working to save him even before he was out of a uniform that indicated he held a lower rank, Suh said.

South Korean officials have yet to identify where the soldier came from or what his intentions were.

Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of the soldier’s care at the Ajou University Hospital, told reporters he was suffering from critical intestinal damage.

Hospital officials where under strict security agency orders not to talk to media and all updates on the soldier had to be through the military, workers there told Reuters.

Dr Lee had been “given a talking-to” after a brief exchange with the media, the hospital workers said.

The U.N. military armistice commission said it had informed the North Korean military that the soldier, who was found about 50 meters (150 feet) south of a Military Demarcation Line, was undergoing surgery for his wounds.

Suh said the South had also informed the North on Monday of the soldier and his treatment, via loudspeakers on the border.

North Korea has in the past complained that North Korean defectors had been abducted by South Korea, and it has demanded their release.

This month, the North demanded that South Korea return 12 waitresses it said had been kidnapped while working in China in 2016. South Korea said the 12 women, and one man, had chosen to defect to the South.

Monday was the first time since 2007 a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Cynthia Kim, Yuna Park and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)