SEOUL—They were supposed to represent North Korea’s fighting elite. Dispatched to Korea’s demilitarized zone roughly three years ago, Roh Chol Min was a new recruit on the front lines. He sized up his fellow 46 soldiers in the unit and saw men like himself: tall, young and connected.

Mr. Roh had won the coveted position, in the late summer of 2017, owing to his sharpshooting skills and height; at 5-feet-8-inches he is unusually tall for North Korea. But when he attended his first target practice, he was stunned. Nobody else…

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