World Media

South Korean official 'killed and burned by North Korea'

Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants to repair frayed ties with neighbour South Korea

North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a coronavirus precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said Thursday.

The official disappeared Monday afternoon while on duty on board a patrol vessel in waters off the western border island of Yeonpyeong, the Defense Ministry said.

"North Korea has likely cremated the South Korean official's body as a preventive measure against COVID-19", an intelligence source said. South Korean intelligence reportedly suggested that North Korea had questioned the missing official on the patrol boat before killing him.

According to a South Korean military official, a figure believed to be the missing civil servant was observed the next day atop flotsam in North Korean waters around 38 kilometers northwest of where he disappeared, wearing a life vest and looking haggard and exhausted.

'Our military strongly condemns such an atrocity, and strongly demands North Korea provide explanations and punish those who are responsible, ' General Ahn Young-ho, who is in charge of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a briefing.

"We also sternly warn North Korea that all responsibilities for this incident lie with it".

The citizen appears to have expressed his desire to defect to the North, according to a JCS official. The South Korean military's surveillance equipment set up on the island detected the flames at around 10:11 p.m. Tuesday. More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea in the past 20 years for political and economic reasons.

Pyongyang closed its border with China in January to try to prevent contamination, and in July state media said it had raised its state of emergency to the maximum level.

South Korea's presidential Blue House said that Moon told Suga the two countries "should find the best solution for the forced laborers" even though South Korea and Japan have different approaches on the issue.

On Wednesday, South Korea sent a message to North Korea over the case via the communication channel between the USA -led United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korea, but the North has not given any response, according to another official.

In July, a man who had defected to South Korea three years ago triggered a coronavirus scare when he crossed back over the heavily monitored border into North Korea, which has claimed to have zero cases of the disease.