North Korea accused South Korea on Sunday of intruding into its territorial water with rescue ships seeking the body of an official recently killed by North Korean troops.
In a statement transmitted via the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang warned that the alleged intrusion could escalate tensions between the two countries.
“According to a report by the western fleet of our navy, the south side has mobilized many vessels including warships to an action presumed to be a search operation and let them intrude into our territorial waters since September 25,” the statement read. “It arouses our due vigilance as it may lead to another awful incident,” KCNA said.
“We can never overlook any intrusion into our territorial waters and we seriously warn the south side against it,” it continued. “We urge the south side to immediately halt the intrusion across the military demarcation line in the west sea that may lead to an escalation of tensions.”
South Korea denied the allegation and called for a joint investigation to determine exactly what happened amid discrepancies in their accounts of the incident.
According to officials in Seoul, the deceased was an Oceans and Fisheries Ministry employee, whose identity still remains unknown, shot dead and later incinerated by North Korean troops on Tuesday while patrolling the Yellow Sea for illegal fishing. North Korea is notorious for its illegal fishing activities, which experts believe is likely an effort by Pyongyang to boost food supplies to help feed a population that remains chronically malnourished.
“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,” read a statement last week from South Korea’s defense ministry. “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 has since confirmed that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un sent a rare message apologizing for the death of the man. Kim’s letter insisted, however, that his soldiers had not incinerated the man because they could not find him. They only found his clothes, the letter said, which they did incinerate in accordance with Chinese coronavirus pandemic protocol.
The incident interrupted negotiations that leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed hope will ultimately usher in a new era of peace following decades of war and end North Korea’s aggressive nuclear weapons expansion. A breakdown in talks with the United States, South Korea’s most steadfast ally, over continued economic sanctions has led to a situation where progress has stalled.
This month, the South Korean ambassador to the U.S. suggested that the North was waiting for the outcome of the upcoming presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden before resuming diplomacy.
“I have a hunch that North Korea is waiting for the November election in the United States because we have only two months left until the election,” Ambassador Lee Soo-Hyuck said at a virtual forum. “After the elections, maybe there will be a chance for the United States and North Korea to conduct a negotiation.”