Updated: 06/23/2014 09:33 | By Agence France-Presse

S. Korea military pushes fugitive conscript to surrender

The South Korean military sought Monday to secure the surrender of a cornered fugitive conscript who killed five fellow soldiers in a shooting spree on the border with North Korea.

S. Korea military pushes fugitive conscript to surrender

South Korean soldiers guard a check point during a drill near the border with North Korea in Paju on March 28, 2013 - by Kim Jae-Hwan

Initial media reports that the 23-year-old sergeant had been captured after a standoff with thousands of soldiers overnight were denied by the defence ministry, which said it was still hoping he could be persuaded to give himself up.

Officials refused to confirm television news channels that the soldier, identified by his family name Lim, had been speaking to his father and was preparing to surrender.

Armed with a K-2 assault rifle and a stash of ammunition, Lim went on the run Saturday night after killing five fellow soldiers at a frontline border outpost.

He traded fire with his pursuers late Sunday before digging in for the night in a section of forest outside a village just south of the heavily militarised border with North Korea.

"Our goal is still to capture him alive," a senior military official told AFP.

Seven others were wounded in Lim's shooting spree on Saturday, during which he detonated a grenade and fired multiple rounds.

Lim was due to be discharged in the next few months after completing his compulsory military service.

The motive behind the shooting was unclear, but army sources said he had difficulty adapting to the military, and psychological evaluators had advised senior officers to pay him special attention.

The incident triggered a massive military manhunt involving more than 4,000 soldiers, including special forces backed by army helicopters.

After a night on the run, Lim was finally cornered 10 kilometres (six miles) away, near  Myungpa-ri village in eastern Gangwon province.

There were several exchanges of fire on Saturday night, during which one platoon leader was shot and wounded in the arm.

Around 500 residents, most of them elderly, were evacuated from their homes to a school building as a precaution.

- Bullying in the barracks -

Lim's deadly shooting spree occurred at a guard post next to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) -- a buffer strip that runs the full length of the 250-kilometre (155-mile) inter-Korean frontier.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

Many of the South Korean soldiers on border duty are young male recruits doing their mandatory two-year military service.

These young men make up a large part of the South's 691,000-strong troop presence, compared with 1.17 million in the North. 

Most of the victims in Saturday's shooting were conscripts, aged from 19 to 23.

The defence ministry issued a "sincere apology" over the incident.

"We pray for the souls of the victims and express our deepest regret for the victims, the injured and their families," it said.

Bullying and cruelty in the barracks have long tarnished the armed forces, and been blamed for suicides and similar shooting incidents.

In July 2011, a 19-year-old marine conscript killed four colleagues in a shooting spree on Ganghwa island near the border. 

In June 2005, eight soldiers were killed and two seriously wounded when a 22-year-old conscript threw a grenade and sprayed bullets over sleeping colleagues at a frontline guard post north of Seoul. 

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