Kim Jong Un makes rare apology over killing of South Korean
Kim Jong Un offered a rare apology over the fatal shooting of a South Korean national by North Korean military personnel north of the border, a move that could prevent the incident from further raising tension between the rivals.
North Korea sent a letter Friday morning over the killing of a 47-year-old man who worked for the fisheries ministry, national security adviser Suh Hoon said in Seoul. The shooting this week was the first such killing in about a decade, coming after Pyongyang taunted its neighbor for months, in June blowing up a liaison office built in 2018 north of the border as a symbol of reconciliation.
"Kim gave the order to deliver the message that he is very sorry that the incident gave a major disappointment to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the South Korean people," the letter -- sent by the United Front Department, a ruling Workers' Party organ handling inter-Korean relations -- said, according to Suh. North Korea's official media had so far made no mention of the incident.
South Korea demanded Thursday that North Korea show contrition. The shooting likely took place around the same day Moon urged world leaders at a speech to the United Nations General Assembly to bring the 70-year-old Korean War to a formal end, his latest attempt to resuscitate stalled nuclear talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim.
"Kim's apology definitely eased the elevating tension in the Korean Peninsula," said Boo Seung-chan, a former adviser to South Korea's defense minister and now an adjunct professor at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies. "Kim may want to portray himself as a rational leader -- not a rogue leader -- to the international community amid his high-stakes nuclear negotiations with the U.S."
In a separate briefing that followed, Suh disclosed contents of letters that Moon and Kim exchanged earlier this month, where they praised each other's efforts in maintaining stability.
The South Korean government employee went missing Monday from his boat near Yeonpyeong Island, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of the nautical border known as the Northern Limit Line. North Korean personnel shot the man and burned his body, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Thursday.
He was apparently trying to defect but was treated harshly by the North Koreans because they believed he could have been a carrier of the coronavirus, Yonhap News Agency cited a South Korean military official as saying.
North Korea denied that it intended to set the man's body ablaze. The letter included the details of North Korea's investigation, which said the unidentified man crossed the maritime border without authorization and was warned by the firing of two blanks.
He didn't respond to commands and when he was trying to flee, more than 10 shots were fired, the letter said. The North Korean patrol found blood in the water but not a body and set fire to floating material in the area as a virus-prevention measure, it said.
North Korea also blasted South Korea for making the "unilateral" announcement of this incident a day earlier and saying Pyongyang had taken "anti-humanitarian" actions.
Yeonpyeong, near where the shooting took place, was in 2010 the site of the first attack on South Korean soil since the end of the Korean War. North Korea shelled targets for more than an hour, killing two civilians and two marines. The flurry damaged almost 300 structures and set wooded areas ablaze.
The incident marked a nadir in ties stemming from a series of incident that began in 2008 when North Korea fatally shot a 53-year-old South Korean woman vacationer who wandered close to a military facility at a resort at North Korea's Mount Kumgang. Pyongyang expressed "regret" the day after the shooting at in the country's eastern mountain resort.
South Koreans were then ordered to vacate the facility that was supposed to serve as a place where people from the two Koreas could meet.