North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has issued a rare personal apology for the killing of a South Korean official, Seoul says.
Mr. Kim reportedly told his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in that the “disgraceful affair” should not have happened.
South Korea has said the 47-year-old man was found by troops floating in the North’s waters.
He was then shot dead and his body was set alight, according to Seoul.
The killing – the first of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade – has caused outrage in the South.
The border between the Koreas is tightly policed, and the North is thought to have a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place to prevent coronavirus from entering the country.
What did Kim say in his apology?
The apology came in the form of a letter sent to President Moon which acknowledged that the incident should not have happened, according to South Korea’s presidential office, also known as the Blue House.
Mr. Kim called it a “disgraceful affair” and said he felt “very sorry” for “disappointing” Mr. Moon and the South Korean people, the Blue House said. It is the North’s first official comment on the incident.
The North also gave the South the results of its investigation – it said more than 10 shots were fired at the man, who had entered North Korean waters and then failed to reveal his identity and tried to flee, South Korea’s director of national security Suh Hoon said.
However the North insisted that it had not burned the man’s body but rather the “floating material” that was carrying him.
“The troops could not locate the unidentified trespasser during a search after firing the shots, and burned the device under national emergency disease prevention measures,” Mr. Suh told a briefing, referring to the North Korean account.
The presidential office in Seoul has also decided to release recent letters between the two leaders.
In them Kim Jong-un said he understood “more than anyone the kind of pressure and hardship” required to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and damage from recent typhoons. It was the “heartfelt truth” that he shared the “pain and suffering of the Southern people”, he said.
This incident could have been a disaster for any hopes of rekindling talks between the South’s President Moon and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
As it is many South Koreans will not forgive or forget easily. They are shocked and outraged at what appears to have been the brutal killing of an unarmed civilian in North Korean waters. It is yet another reminder of North Korea’s often merciless regime.
It’s also worth noting that the North’s account of the killing does not match the details given by officials in the South. However, this rare personal apology from Kim Jong-un may go some way to assuage Southern anger.
If there had been no apology, Mr. Kim’s warm letter to Mr. Moon would have been wasted. By at least attempting to smooth things over, Mr. Kim may be signalling his willingness to keep talking.