South Korean troops stationed at the joint security area (JSA) of Panmunjeom acted in accordance with the U.N. rules of engagement governing the area when they decided not to return fire despite dozens of shots fired by North Korean forces, an official from the presidential office said Thursday.
"The engagement rules governing the JSA were drafted and are enforced by the United Nations Command (UNC)," the official told reporters, asking not to be identified. "It is not something the Korean Defense Ministry can modify."
The remarks followed public criticism that South Korean forces in the area should have returned fire when North Korean troops fired dozens of shots at a man believed to be a North Korean soldier defecting to the South on Monday.
The defector suffered several gunshot wounds to his shoulder and abdomen, and is said to be in a critical condition. No injuries to South Korean personnel have been reported.
The JSA directly sits on the military demarcation line that divides the two Koreas with South and North Korean guards standing only a few feet away from each other. The area is overseen by the UNC, though UNC troops and officials are only stationed on the south side of the JSA.
Earlier, the defense ministry said it may seek to change the JSA rules of engagement, apparently to allow immediate return fire following North Korean provocations.
The Cheong Wa Dae official said the move was still up to the UNC.
President Moon Jae-in, too, has noted a need for South Korean troops at the JSA to be able to counter North Korean attacks.
The official insisted the president was only pointing out the need to have the means to prevent North Korean troops firing shots across the inter-Korean border, even at the JSA.
"We have no authority to change the rules of engagement, though we may say what we think. It is entirely up to the UNC, and the South Korean government has no plan to tell UNC what to do," the official said.