The government of South Korea confirmed on Friday that it had received a letter from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un saying he was “immensely sorry” for the killing of a South Korean official reportedly found in the North’s water this week.
While the letter allegedly relayed a personal apology from Kim, it came from the North Korean United Front Department, an agency that manages the nation’s relationship with the South, according to officials in Seoul.
Reports initially indicated that North Korean authorities found the man – identified only as a 47-year-old Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries’ West Sea Fisheries Management Service official – after he had jumped off an inspection boat on Monday and appeared to either float or swim towards North Korea. South Korea has not definitively offered an explanation for how the man ended up in the water.
“North Korea found the man in its waters and committed an act of brutality by shooting at him and burning his body, according to our military’s thorough analysis of diverse intelligence,” South Korea’s defense ministry said on Tuesday, stating that the man went missing on Monday. “Our military strongly condemns such a brutal act and strongly urges the North to provide an explanation and punish those responsible. We also sternly warn North Korea that all responsibilities for this incident lie with it.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) suggested that the man was trying to defect to North Korea – a rare but not unheard of move for South Korean citizens – but his family has reportedly strongly refuted that possibility.
According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, South Korean officials published an apology from Kim personally, reportedly sent to Seoul. Kim allegedly told the South Korean government he was “immensely sorry” for the “unsavory” situation.
Suh Hoon, director of the National Security Office in the Blue House (the South Korean presidential office), revealed the letter on Friday. The letter reportedly also described the man as “unidentified,” asserting that North Korean authorities did not attack him because of who they believed he was, but that they deemed him a threat after he did not offer clear responses to questions from maritime border security.
The North Korean letter reportedly denied original reports that Pyongyang had incinerated the man’s body after killing him, narrating instead that officers had fired about ten shots at him while he was in the water and found his clothing with “many bloodstains” once they retrieved it from the water. The regime indicated that the patrolmen did not burn the man’s body because they did not find it, but they did burn his clothing – a required step in Chinese coronavirus prevention under North Korean law.
“Towards the end of the message, North Korean leader Kim, in a rare sign of contrition, was quoted as saying he was immensely sorry to President Moon and the South and North Korean people for ‘disappointing’ them with the unexpected and unfortunate incident,” South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo reported.
South Korean officials described the apology as “unprecedented.”
Neither the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North Korean state newswire service, or Rodong Sinmun, its government propaganda newspaper, have addressed the incident at press time.
South Korean military leaders assured citizens on Friday that they had increased “readiness posture” to protect in the event of an anticipated attack, independent of the announcements from other wings of the South Korean government.
“Our military issued the instruction on Thursday that calls for the strengthening of the readiness posture regarding the current situation,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik said. “The focus is on closely monitoring North Korean military moves around the clock and to maintain a firm defense posture to swiftly react to all circumstances so as to prevent the escalation of tensions.”
In contrast, Suh, the Blue House official, took the opportunity to reveal that Kim and leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in had exchanged several letters in the past month.
“I once again eagerly wish that southern compatriots’ precious health and happiness will be kept. I sincerely wish for everyone’s well-being,” one of Kim’s letters to Moon read in part, according to the release from the South Korean government. “Collapsed houses can be rebuilt, disconnected bridges can be reconnected and fallen rice plants can be set upright again, but people’s lives are an absolute value that cannot be restored and cannot be traded with anything else.”
Kim’s warmth in the alleged letters towards Moon contrasts significantly with the actions of his government throughout the summer, publicly spearheaded by his sister, Kim Yo-jong. After publishing several threats to South Korea in its state media outlets over human rights activists in the South sending food supplies across the border, North Korea ordered the bombing of a joint liaison office in the Northern city of Kaesong, used for the past two years to make daily phone calls between the Koreas to maintain regular contact. The belligerent move alarmed many in Seoul who expressed concern that more violence would follow.
Instead, the most recent extended statement from Kim Yo-jong, who is believed to have been the brains behind the office bombing, demanded that President Donald Trump send her DVD copies of Independence Day celebrations in America, as, she wrote, she enjoys fireworks.
General Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said in an interview this month that the Korean border had become quiet following the bombing and that intelligence suggested that Pyongyang had redirected its attention away from the Korean War, still ongoing after 70 years, and towards fighting an internal Chinese coronavirus outbreak and repairing the extensive damage caused by weeks of flooding.
North Korea still insists that its official coronavirus case count remains at zero, though evidence – including Kim abruptly calling for the construction of a large hospital in the capital – suggest otherwise.
Abrams also said that American intelligence confirmed Kim’s “shoot-to-kill” order on the Korean border, specifically to prevent coronavirus carriers from infecting the country, an order that may explain the abrupt killing of the South Korean official this week.