KEY POINTS

  • Kim Jong-Un's apology letter was sent directly to South Korean President Moon Jae-In's Blue House in Seoul
  • South Korean officials said the man killed was suspected of trying to defect to North Korea when he was killed
  • North Korea contends the man refused to identify himself and was shot trying to flee from a patrol 

Kim Jong-Un issued a rare apology Friday to South Korean President Moon Jae-In after reports a South Korean official was shot dead and his body burned while allegedly trying to defect to North Korea. Officials said the letter was received at the Blue House in Seoul and a public version was released shortly afterward.

“Chairman Kim Jong-Un asked to convey that he feels very sorry that instead of giving aid to our compatriots in the South who is struggling with COVID epidemic, we have given President Moon and our compatriots in the South a great disappointment with this unseen misfortune in our sea,” the letter said.

Kim said the official was only shot when he tried to flee from the North Korean soldiers who found him. He wrote that the soldiers repeatedly asked for his identity and fired multiple warning shots, but the man refused to give his name. The flotation device was the only thing set on fire as a precaution after the soldiers saw blood on it, he added.

South Korean National Security Adviser Suh Hoon addressed the letter in a press conference shortly after it was released publicly.

“The man who died was a South Korean fisheries official who went missing last week,” Suh said. “Soldiers fired more than 10 shots at him after he did not reveal his identity and tried to flee. Seoul had said the soldiers then doused his body in oil and set it on fire.”

“But the letter claims they instead burned a flotation device he was using, according to their antivirus manuals, and not his body. The rare message comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in faces intense political fallout at home over the incident.”

South Korean officials first reported on the shooting Thursday after the man’s body was recovered.

Gen. Ahn Young-ho, a member of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military was notified on Monday that an official with the ministry of oceans and fisheries was missing. He said the official, identified only as Mr. A, was believed to be traveling on a government boat to Yeonpyeong Island near the maritime border with North Korea when he disappeared.

The South Korean military said someone believed to be the offical was spotted at least once six hours before making contact with a North Korean patrol. However, no attempts were made to contact or rescue him before he crossed the maritime border.

“So, we assume that North Koreans, all clad in anti-contamination clothing and masks, were waiting for the order from their superiors about what to do with the South Korean official and then shot him and set fire to him using oil,” a South Korean official, whose name has not been released, told NBC News. “The fact that North Koreans left the South Korean official on the floater from the moment he was discovered to his death highly suggests that North Koreans acted in the Covid-19 context.”

Suh said their suspicion was Mr. A was trying to defect because he appeared to avoid the boat’s surveillance camera and left several personal items behind. He also said a sizeable debt was the likely reason the official sought to defect. The official’s brother, Lee Rae-jin, pushed back at this and said it was most likely an accident.

“Not everyone who has debts wants to go to the North,” Lee said. He was also critical of the military for letting his brother float out in the open waters for nearly a day.

Speculation has been bubbling up again about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Speculation has been bubbling up again about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Photo: KCNA VIA KNS / STR