South Korea says the civilian government official shot and killed by North Korean troops last week at a maritime border was trying to defect to the North.
Yoon Sung-hyun, the South Korean Coast Guard’s chief of investigation and intelligence, said Monday in Seoul they reached the conclusion based on military intelligence and other evidence gathered from the scene.
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.
Yoon said it was unlikely the man lost his footing or attempted suicide, as he was wearing a life jacket and hanging onto a floatation device when he was spotted by North Korean troops. He said the direction of the tidal currents on the day the man went missing suggests he could not have reached the point where he was found unless he swam.
The official told the North Korean troops he wanted to defect, Yoon said, adding that the troops knew the official’s personal details, including his name, age, hometown and height.
Yoon said the official was thousands of dollars in debt, but could not say if that was the reason he was trying to defect.
The official’s brother has said it was more likely that he fell into the sea by accident.
According to the South Korean military’s version of events, the man was questioned and shot to death, and his body then doused with oil and set on fire after being intercepted at sea by North Korean troops.
But a statement from North Korea 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.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a rare apology for the incident last week, saying the man’s death was “unsavory” and “should not have happened.” Seoul is calling on the two countries to undertake a joint probe into the incident.