0710 GMT November 30, 2020
South Korea said on Thursday the North’s United Front Department, which is in charge of cross-border ties, sent a letter to President Moon Jae-in’s office to express regret over the killing of an official at South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, according to Press TV.
The man, 47, whose name was not made public, had disappeared off a patrol vessel and ended up in the North’s waters.
The man was aboard a vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong, when he was shot to death and his body was was set ablaze in the waters.
The letter cited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as saying he was “sorry” that the incident disappointed the South Korean public and should not have happened, said Moon’s security adviser, Suh Hoon.
The South Korean president described the killing as a “stunning and deeply regrettable act that cannot be tolerated.”
The South’s Defense Ministry called it “atrocious” and demanded that Pyongyang punish those responsible.
This is the first time a South Korean has been killed in the North since 2008, when North Korean troops shot to death a South Korean tourist who had accidentally strolled into an off-limits area.
Last month, North Korea declared a state of emergency after a person suspected of having the coronavirus returned from South Korea by illegally crossing the border.
The person had defected to South Korea three years ago, and returned across the fortified border that divides the two Koreas with symptoms that suggested COVID-19 – the disease caused by coronavirus.
The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice but not a peace treaty.
They were on a path of rapprochement beginning in January 2018 before US intransigence to relieve any of the sanctions on the North effectively killed diplomacy.
US President Donald Trump has held three summits with Kim, with whom he signed an agreement in 2018 to move a step closer to peace by turning the Korean Peninsula into a “land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats”.
Negotiations between the US and North Korea have gradually halted owing to Trump’s refusal to relieve any of the harsh US sanctions on the North in exchange for goodwill measures by Pyongyang.
The North has in recent years been subject to multiple United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. The US has spearheaded those sanctions and has imposed several of its own.