SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea on Sunday called for a joint investigation with North Korea to clarify key details about the killing of a South Korean official at sea that sparked a rare apology from North American leader Kim Jong-un.
The South Korean official, whose name has not been released but who worked on a ship monitoring fishing boats near the controversial western maritime border between the two Koreas, was shot dead Tuesday by North Korean forces after he was found floating in North Korean waters.
In an apology offered on Friday, Mr. Kim called the events “unexpected” and “unfortunate”. But the two Koreas differed in important details in their reports on what happened.
South Korea insisted the man tried to vomit, indicating that he left his shoes on the boat and went into the water with a life jacket on. South Korean officials told reporters, without elaborating, that they had “special information” suggesting that the man disclosed his intentions to defeat to North Koreans. They also accused North Korean soldiers of cremating the officer’s body at sea.
South Korea condemned the murder as a “gruesome” and “breathtaking” act.
However, North Korea called the South Korean official an “illegal intruder” who failed to explain his presence in North Korean waters on a floating device when confronted with a North Korean patrol ship. The north admitted that its troops shot and killed the man but said they could not find his body and that his floating device had been burned in accordance with disease control guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“As the results of South and North Korea are patchy, we ask for a joint investigation so that we can establish the truth as soon as possible,” said Suh Choo-suk, deputy director for national security in South Korea, on Sunday.
The request for a joint investigation followed an emergency meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and security-related cabinet ministers on the previous Sunday to discuss the official’s killing.
After the meeting, South Korea also called for hotlines to be re-established between the two Koreas’ militaries to aid a joint investigation. North Korea cut all official channels of communication with the south in June, accusing Seoul of failing to keep promises to improve economic and other relations with the north.
There was no immediate response from the north.
Dozens of South Korean Navy and Coast Guard ships and planes have searched the waters near the controversial inter-Korean border to find the official’s body.
The official North Korean Central News Agency announced on Sunday that North Korea intends to hand over the official’s body if it is found in its waters. But it accused the South Korean ships of intruding on their search and warned of “another unfortunate incident”.
South Korea said its ships had not crossed the Northern Limit Line, a western maritime border unilaterally established by the United Nations command at the end of the Korean War in 1950/53. Although South Korea patrols waters south of the northern borderline, the north does not realize this. It insists on another border further south and regularly accuses the south of violating its territorial waters.