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Shooting of official puts inter

Army Lt. Gen. Ahn Young-ho of the Joint Chiefs of Staff holds a press conference at the defense ministry in Seoul,<strong></strong> Thursday, over an incident of North Korea shooting a missing South Korean official and burning his body earlier this week. / Yonhap
Army Lt. Gen. Ahn Young-ho of the Joint Chiefs of Staff holds a press conference at the defense ministry in Seoul, Thursday, over an incident of North Korea shooting a missing South Korean official and burning his body earlier this week. / Yonhap

Seoul strongly condemns Pyongyang over 'inhumane' act

By Kang Seung-woo

The government has strongly protested North Korea's execution-like shooting of a missing South Korean official and the burning of his body.

With strong criticism toward Pyongyang coming from not only the opposition parties but also from the ruling bloc, the incident is likely to worsen already stalled inter-Korea ties, according to North Korea watchers

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Thursday that the 47-year-old official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries went missing while on duty aboard an inspection vessel in waters off the western border island of Yeonpyeong, Monday.

The JCS presumes he jumped into the sea to defect to the North and drifted into North Korean waters, considering he left his shoes on the boat, was wearing a life jacket and was clinging to an unidentified floating item when a North Korean vessel found him at around 3:30 p.m., Tuesday.

It suspects the man expressed his intention to defect to North Korea to the crewmembers of the boat who questioned him from a distance while leaving him in the water.

About six hours later, North Korean sailors shot him, and poured oil over the body to set it on fire, according to the JSC, which said the act was carried out following "orders from a superior officer."

"North Korea found the man in its waters and committed an act of brutality by shooting him and burning his body, according to our military's thorough analysis of diverse intelligence material," the defense ministry said in a statement.

In response, the South Korean government issued a strong condemnation.

"President Moon expressed deep regret over the North's killing of the South Korean official, saying it was intolerable for any reason," Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok said.

"He added that the North should give a responsible explanation and take appropriate measures over the incident."

Moon also ordered the military to maintain a tighter security posture to protect the people's lives and safety, the spokesman added.

Earlier in the day, the presidential office also demanded that the North take full responsibility to explain the incident, punish those held accountable, apologize for the inhumane act, and take measures to prevent any recurrence.

"North Korea shot a South Korean citizen, who was unarmed and had no intention to resist, to death and burned his body, and this cannot be justified by any reasoning," Suh Choo-suk, deputy head of the National Security Council, said after a meeting presided over by National Security Adviser Suh Hoon.

"This is an act against international rules and humanitarianism, and the South Korean government strongly condemns it."

US joins Seoul in condemning North Korea for killing South Korean official US joins Seoul in condemning North Korea for killing South Korean official 2020-09-25 09:17  |  North Korea Slain South Korean official left no indication of attempt to defect to North Slain South Korean official left no indication of attempt to defect to North 2020-09-24 20:34  |  North Korea
The military and the unification ministry issued similar statements denouncing the North's brutality.

The reason for the man's killing and the burning of his corpse is unclear, but authorities here suspect it was related to North Korea's anti-coronavirus measures. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the totalitarian state has shut down nearly all cross-border traffic since January, with "shoot-to-kill orders" imposed in border areas to prevent any coronavirus outbreak.

Kim Yeoul-soo, chief of the Security Strategy Office at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs, said in the wake of a North Korean defector's undetected reentry into the North from the South in July, the North Korean military in the border areas has since remained on high alert, prepared to shoot those who cross over.

"In a previous reentry case, military leaders in charge of the relevant border area were heavily reprimanded and as a result, I think that the North dealt with the defecting South Korean official in cold blood," Kim said.

North Korea watchers said the incident would complicate inter-Korean relations by highlighting North Korea's poor attitude toward human rights.

"The North made a serious mistake from a humanitarian perspective," said Cho Han-beom, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

An Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, also said, "The killing may emerge as an issue of a human rights violation between the two Koreas."

The killing came to light one day after President Moon Jae-in made another proposal to engage with Pyongyang in his United Nations address, in which he restated his call for the declaration of an end to the Korean War. The three-year war ended in an armistice, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war.

From that respect, the incident is likely to throw a monkey wrench in his drive for inter-Korean cooperation.

Kim Chong-in, the interim leader of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), slammed the Moon administration for its unawareness of reality.

"The killing of a South Korean shows that the North has not changed its hostility toward the South at all, but President Moon imprudently made a proposal to declare an end to the war, which is truly irresponsible," Kim said during a party meeting at the National Assembly,

Questioning the role of the highly-touted "hotline" between President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the party leader urged the government to thoroughly investigate the incident and how it happened.

"It is doubtful that the official disappeared on Monday ahead of Moon's U.N. address, but it was made public following his speech. We wonder whether the Moon administration decided to put a political event above the life of his people," he said.

Regarding the timing, Cheong Wa Dae said it was holding a meeting to fully understand the situation around the shooting while Moon's U.N. speech was delivered to the online General Assembly, and Moon was briefed at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, some six hours following the broadcast of the address.

"After the briefing, Moon ordered us to find out exactly what had happened and to try and confirm it with North Korea, adding this would cause public anger if it was true," Suh said. "He ordered us to let the people know about the matter truthfully."

Anger was also evident in the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

DPK Chairman Lee Nak-yon said the incident was a violation of the spirit of the Panmunjeom and Pyongyang declarations agreed to between the leaders of the two Koreas.

"The North Korean soldiers' act of shooting an unarmed civilian who was drifting, and burning the body is brutality that cannot be acceptable for any reason, and I express strong feelings over this," Lee said after being briefed on the case by the defense ministry, according to a press release.

Rep. Song Young-gil of the DPK also wrote on Facebook, "There was no fighting and it was in daytime. If they caught a person and questioned him, they could confirm it was an unarmed civilian, whether he was defecting or just drifting. Even if a person is suspected of spying, or even if he is a prisoner of war, killing him on the spot without a trial is unacceptable."



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