North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rarely apologized on Friday for the murder of a South Korean official who appeared to be attempting to overflow near rivals’ controversial maritime border.
“Comrade chairman Kim Jong Un asked to convey the message that he is very sorry to cause great disappointment to our southern compatriots and President Moon Jae-In because of this unfortunate incident in our waters,” it said in a letter to the South Korean President Blue House said.
It was sent by the Unification Department, the North Korean body in charge of relations with its southern neighbor.
It is extremely unusual for a North Korean leader to apologize on any matter.
But it came after the South Korean Ministry of Defense said Thursday the North shot and burned the body of a South Korean official who disappeared from a government boat earlier this week.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in described the incident as “shocking” and “very unfortunate” as it fueled the mood against the North and sparked a public backlash.
The North Korean letter admitted that after initially firing blanks, its military fired “about ten rounds” at the unidentified “intruder” because he did not reveal his identity and appeared to be fleeing.
It added that for security reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, they burned the floating device he washed up on and could not find his body.
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The letter, however, censured Seoul for using “blasphemous and confrontational words” to condemn the North for the incident before asking for an explanation of the incident. Still, North Korea said it would take steps to prevent the collapse of trust between the countries.
“Our leadership stressed that we should remain more vigilant and aware so that this unfortunate incident does not destroy mutual trust and respect between North Korea and South Korea,” the letter said.
The South Korean Coast Guard said earlier Friday that their ships would search the waters near the border in case the official’s body drifts back. They said they checked the 47-year-old man’s cell phone records, bank accounts and insurance details to learn more about his disappearance, which remains unresolved.
Several bloody inter-Korean sea skirmishes and deadly attacks have taken place along the western maritime border in recent years.
Tensions between the two countries escalated earlier this summer when Pyongyang cut communications hotlines with the South and theatrically destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office set up to foster better relations between the two.
North Korea also beat the deserters of South and North Korea who lived there to get propaganda leaflets and balloons that were parachuted to the north.
More recently, Moon and Kim exchanged letters to share hopes of rebuilding relations after fighting the coronavirus, South Korean officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Arata Yamamoto contributed.