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|People watch a screen showing a file image of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 25, 2020. Photo: AP|
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said on September 27 that it is searching for the body an official of the Republic of Korea (RoK) killed by its troops, but warned that RoK naval operations in the area threatened to raise tensions by intruding across a disputed sea border.
DPRK leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology on September 25 for the fatal shooting of the RoK fisheries official in DPRK waters, according to Seoul.
The RoK’s military has accused the DPRK soldiers of killing the man, dousing his body in fuel and setting it on fire near the sea border, Reuters said.
After RoK President Moon Jae-in convened a ministers’ meeting to discuss the DPRK on September 27, the presidential Blue House reiterated calls for Pyongyang to allow a joint investigation into the killing. It urged the restoration of military communication hotlines that the DPRK severed earlier this year as relations soured.
|The RoK urged the DPRK to further investigate the fatal shooting of the RoK fisheries official. Photo: EPA-EFE|
The DPRK state news agency KCNA called the killing an “awful case which should not have happened” but accused the RoK naval operations near in the area of crossing into the DPRK waters.
“We urge the south side to immediately halt the intrusion across the military demarcation line in the west sea that may lead to escalation of tensions,” KCNA said.
A spokesman for the RoK’s Ministry of National Defense had no immediate comment on the DPRK’s accusations.
The RoK has been searching only in waters south of the DPRK Limit Line, a contested sea demarcation between the two Koreas that dates to the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, the RoK’s Yonhap news agency said, quoting an unnamed coast guard official.
The RoK has mobilised 39 vessels, including 16 naval ships, and six aircraft for the search, which continued on September 27 despite the DPRK complaints, Yonhap said.
The DPRK was beginning its own search operation to recover the body, KCNA said.
“We also took more necessary security measures in order to make sure that no more incident spoiling the relations of trust and respect between the north and the south would happen in any case,” the report added, without elaborating.
Rare apology from DPRK
|People watch a TV showing a file image of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, left, and RoK President Moon Jae-in during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 25, 2020. Photo: AP|
Kim Jong Un said he is “very sorry” about the killing of the RoK official. It’s extremely unusual for a DPRK leader to apologize to the RoK on any issue.
Kim’s move will likely de-escalate tensions between the Koreas as it’s expected to ease anti-DPRK sentiments in the RoK as well as mounting criticism of its liberal President Moon Jae-in, according to AP News.
“Comrade Kim Jong Un, the State Affairs Commission chairman, feels very sorry to give big disappointment to President Moon Jae-in and South Korean citizens because an unexpected, unfortunate incident happened” at a time when the RoK grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, Moon adviser Suh Hoon cited the DPRK message as saying.
According to the DPRK message, DPRK troops first fired blanks after the man found in the DPRK’s waters refused to answer other than saying he’s from the RoK a couple of times. Then, as he made moves to flee, the DPRK troops fired 10 rounds. When they came near the floating object, they only found lots of blood but no sign of him.
The troops determined he was dead and burned the floating object in line with anti-coronavirus rules, according to the DPRK message read by Suh.
Senior RoK military officer Ahn Young Ho told a parliamentary committee meeting on September 24 that the DPRK killed the man likely because of elevated anti-coronavirus measures that involve “indiscriminate shooting” at anyone approaching its borders illegally.
Defense Minister Suh Wook said at the same meeting that the official was believed to have tried to defect because he left his shoes on the ship, put on a life jacket and boarded a floating object. Suh also cited circumstantial evidence indicating the defection attempt. Some experts say there wasn’t enough proof to conclude he tried to cross over to the DPRK.
Kim’s message said the DPRK “cannot not help expressing big regrets” over the fact the RoK had used “blasphemous and confrontational words like atrocious act” to condemn the DPRK before asking it to explain details of the incident. But it said the DPRK is still sorry about such an incident happening on its territory and will take steps to prevent trust between the countries from collapsing.
The presidential Blue House said on September 25 that Moon and Kim had recently exchanged letters before the latest incident. In his letter, Kim expressed worries about coronavirus outbreaks and typhoon damage in the RoK and wished Moon a good health./.
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