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North Korea issues rare apology after killing South Korean official at sea

North Korea issues rare apology after killing South Korean official at sea

The shooting of the man, a fisheries official who had gone missing this week, shocked South Koreans and sparked a barrage of criticism from the opposition and the public, prompting an unusually tough response from Moon, who called it "unpardonable".

Defense officials said Thursday that they believe the 47-year-old man had been attempting to defect to North Korea and that he was set on fire after being shot as a COVID-19 prevention measure.

The soldiers approached and asked for identification from a distance but the man did not fully respond, only saying that was from the South, after which they fired blank rounds. North's troops fired towards the intruder from 130 feet when it came to a situation suggesting that he attempted to flee.

"After watching the North (normally) receiving written messages from our side through the Military Armistice Commission of the United Nations Command, (I) have determined that (the killing) may have not been reported up to Chairman Kim but was commanded by officials including local military commanders", Park said. South Korea's National Intelligence Service said later Friday that Kim appeared not to have given the order to fatally shoot the South Korean official.

It is not known how he ended up in North Korean territory, but it is thought he may have been trying to defect.

The department, which is in charge of inter-Korean relations, said it shot a person who entered the country illegally and tried to escape, and denied burning his body.

The message said North Korea "cannot not help expressing big regrets" over the fact South Korea had used "blasphemous and confrontational words like atrocious act" to condemn the North without asking it to explain details of the incident. Moon was said to have sent a letter to Kim on September 8, to which Kim responded four days later.

The rare mea culpa was delivered in a letter to South Korea's presidential Blue House, according to Suh Hoon, director of the South's National Security Office.

Conservatives lambasted the government for allegedly deliberately withholding the information so as not to spoil the atmosphere ahead of Moon's speech at the virtual UN General Assembly on Wednesday, during which he repeated his calls for declaring an end of the Korean War in a bid to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"In an unusual move, the North sent a letter under the name of Kim Jong-un and offered an apology, but our military has not even contacted (the bereaved family)", he told Yonhap News Agency.

The military announced the fishery official's death a day after Moon proposed a new regional disease control and health initiative including North Korea to cope with crises like the coronavirus and strained ties with Pyongyang.