Seoul: North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea. The North Korean soldiers then burned his body as a coronavirus precaution. The incident happened after the South Korean man was interrogated in the water over several hours. This information was given Thursday by Seoul military officials.
It is the first killing of a Southern citizen by North Korean forces for a decade. It comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the coronavirus pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill.
The fisheries official disappeared Monday from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong, a South Korean military official told this agency.
More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters. They questioned him from a patrol boat, the official said. Yonhap news agency added that the interrogator wore protective equipment. He was killed around six hours after being found, according to the official.
“He was shot dead in the water,” he said. “North Korean soldiers poured oil over his body and burnt it in the water. We assess it was carried out under the North’s anti-coronavirus measure,” the official added.
Pyongyang has closed its borders and declared an emergency to try to protect itself against the virus. Borders with close ally China have been sealed.
The man was wearing a lifejacket and his shoes had been found on board the South Korean boat, the official. “We have obtained intelligence that he had expressed his intention to defect while being questioned,” the official said.
The official however, declined to go into detail about the source of the information. But the South Korean military is known to intercept radio communications by the North’s forces.
The killing took place after an ‘order from superior authority’, ‘Yonhap’ cited South Korean officials as saying.
Seoul’s defence ministry condemned the shooting as an ‘outrageous act’. “We sternly warn North Korea that all responsibilities for this incident lie with it,” the ministry said in a statement.
The isolated North Korea has not confirmed a single case of the disease that has swept the world. However, it is known that North’s crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak.
Pyongyang closed its border with China in January to try to prevent contamination. State-run media said in July it had raised its state of emergency to the maximum level. That same month, North Korean officials put the border city of Kaesong under lockdown. This happened after a defector who had fled to the South three years ago sneaked back over the heavily fortified border. The fate of the defector is not known yet.
This week’s shooting is the first time in 10 years that North Korean forces have killed a Southerner. In November 2010, Pyongyang’s military bombarded Yeonpyeong Island – close to this week’s incident — killing two civilians and two marines.