Pyongyang’s execution, torching of S Korean official reignites tensions

Seoul, Sep 24 (efe-epa).- Seoul said Thursday that North Korean troops executed and burned a southern official who disappeared this week on the maritime border between the two countries, an act it called “brutal” and “inhumane” and that promises to increase tension on the peninsula.

The 47-year-old official, identified only as “A,” disappeared Monday, in broad daylight, from the Ministry of Fisheries ship where he worked.

When his companions reported the disappearance to the coast guard, the ship, tasked with overseeing fishing activities, was about 10 kilometers from the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea, the tight and disputed Northern Limit Line (LLN).

“As a result of the exhaustive military analysis that we have made of various intelligence material, we have confirmed that North Korea committed the brutal act of shooting and incinerating the body of this citizen of the Republic of Korea in North Korean waters,” the southern National Defense Ministry said in a statement.

For its part, the South Korean presidential office also harshly condemned the event and urged Pyongyang to reveal everything that happened around this “inhumane act,” according to another statement signed by the deputy director of the Office of National Security, Suh Choo-suk.

Unification Ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said in Seoul that the action “amounts to pouring cold water on our constant patience and efforts for inter-Korean reconciliation and peace and is totally contrary to the wishes of our people.”

The southern authorities have tried unsuccessfully to contact the North regarding the event, something that reflects the bad moment that the bilateral relationship is experiencing.

Since the failure of the Hanoi summit between Pyongyang and Washington in February 2019, the regime has hardened its stance on Seoul and in June destroyed the inter-Korean liaison office on its territory in protest at the propaganda sent by activists from the South.

Pyongyang has since severed cross-border lines of communication.

It is the first time a South Korean civilian has died at the hands of the North Korean army since November 2010, when a northern bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, located precisely in the same area where the official disappeared, cost the lives of two inhabitants of the island and two soldiers.

Before that, in July 2008 Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldiers shot dead a Southerner who was on vacation at the northern resort of Mount Kumgang and who apparently entered a restricted military zone.

According to the intelligence analyzed by Seoul, a North Korean maritime patrol located the official one day after his disappearance adrift, who was wearing a life jacket and was clinging to a floating object.

The man was reportedly left in the water and the soldiers, wearing gas masks, interrogated him from the deck.

Hours later and “after a corresponding superior order,” he was shot and his body, after being doused with fuel, was incinerated, according to the head of operations of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Ahn Young-ho.

Surveillance teams installed on Yeongpyeong Island captured the resulting flames, detected about 38 kilometers northwest of where the Ministry of Fisheries boat was located when “A” disappeared.

“We believe that North Korea appears to have taken such an inhumane measure of shooting a person in accordance with its anti-COVID-19 guidelines,” an anonymous military source told the Yonhap agency.

“We never imagined that North Korea would commit such brutality,” he added.

In July, a North Korean who had defected to the South in 2018 returned to his country and was accused by the regime of possibly being the first infected with the country’s coronavirus.

North Korea, which has closed its borders tightly since the start of the pandemic, has since offered no further information on the case of the defector and has assured the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has not detected or a single positive among its citizens.

Seoul suspects that “A,” whose shoes were only found aboard the Ministry of Fisheries vessel, was planning to defect to the North.

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