South Korea on Thursday claimed that North Korea fatally shot a South Korean government official near the maritime border of the countries and then set his body on fire to erase evidence. South Korea has condemned the killing as "an act of brutality" and has called for those responsible to be punished.
The man killed is reportedly an oceans and fisheries ministry official who had been missing since Monday. The victim, who hasn't been named, was reportedly spotted by his other colleagues, who said that he mistakenly entered the North Korean waters. However, instead of arresting him, South Korea claims that the North killed and mutilated his body.
The South Korean ministry said that the 47-year-old official was in a boat that was carrying around 20 other officials off the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, when he suddenly disappeared. The boat was inspecting potential illegal fishing when the official accidentally entered the North Korean borders.
However, instead of arresting and interrogating the official, he was allegedly shot by North Korea's navy. "North Korea found the man in its waters and committed an act of brutality by shooting at him and burning his body, according to our military's thorough analysis of diverse intelligence," the ministry said in a statement.
South Korea has described the incident to be an "act of brutality" as he was not only shot but his also body was burnt. "We also sternly warn North Korea that all responsibilities for this incident lie with it," the statement further read. The South is now calling for punishment of those responsible for the brutal killing of the official.
According to South Korean media reports, other colleagues who claim that the official accidentally ended up in North Korean waters, said he was missing from lunch and only his shoes were found on the vessel. Following that, a search operation was launched involving ships and aircraft. However, they failed to trace the man for three days till the ministry claimed that the official was killed and his body was mutilated by burning.
It is still not clear how South Korean officials confirmed that the official disappeared in North Korean waters and was then shot by the country's navy given the recent disruptions to all channels of communication with Pyongyang. North Korea had severed all inter-Korean hotlines in June and also blew up a liaison office, which are considered to be important channels of contact between the two countries.
Yonhap cited intelligence sources as saying that the official was questioned by North Korean soldiers while attempting to defect and that he was shot on the orders of a senior official. It reported that his corpse had been doused with oil and set alight. One of the possible reasons behind this could be that North Korean troops may have been acting under anti-coronavirus orders.
North Korean authorities earlier this month had issued shoot-to-kill orders to prevent Covid-19 cases as it believes that the infection is entering the country from China. If the accusations prove to be true, the death would be the first of a South Korean citizen in the North since 2008. The last of such a death took place when North Korean soldiers shot a 53-year-old woman who had reportedly wandered into a restricted zone during a visit to the jointly run Mount Kumgang resort.