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South Korean President Expresses Regret Over Killing of Official by North Korean Troops

FILE - South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks on the phone with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 24, 2020.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has apologized to the family of a civilian government official shot and killed by North Korean troops last week along a maritime border.

President Moon offered the official’s family “words of deep condolences” during a meeting with his senior aides in Seoul Monday.

The official, identified only as a 47-year-old employee of South Korea’s fisheries agency, was reported missing while on duty on a fishing boat north of the western sea border, known as the Northern Limit Line.

After being intercepted at sea by North Korean troops, the man was questioned, shot to death, doused with oil, and set on fire, apparently all on orders from a superior, according to the South Korean military’s version of events.

North Korea has given a different account. It says the border troops, following anti-coronavirus guidelines, fired 10 gunshots at the man from a distance. When they approached his flotation device, they found only blood. They then set the floating device on fire, the statement said.

Moon also apologized to the South Korean people over their “shock and fury” over the incident, saying the government is responsible for safeguarding its citizens.

The president also pointed out the rare public apology offered last Friday by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in which he is quoted as saying the man’s death was “unsavory” and “should not have happened.”

Moon said the letter shows that Kim is taking the case seriously and is eager to prevent a complete breakdown of inter-Korean relations. He urged Pyongyang to restore dialogue and reconnect the military communications channels it severed earlier this year.

The opposition People Power Party and other critics have accused South Korea’s military of failing to rescue the man after it was revealed that he was spotted in North Korean waters hours before he was killed.

South Korea on Saturday suggested the two countries undertake a joint probe into the shooting incident.