North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un apologized on Friday for the shooting of a South Korean fisheries officer that occurred near the two nations' disputed maritime border.
Correspondence from the United Front Department of the Workers' Party of North Korea stated that Jong Un feels "deeply sorry" for the "unintended, unfortunate incident" and also included the results of the North Korean investigation of the events.
Seoul's National Defense Ministry alleged based on "diverse intelligence" last Thursday that the suspected defector was apprehended in North Korean waters and was shot to death, doused in oil, then set on fire, all on orders from a superior.
The 47-year-old South Korean citizen, who was recently divorced and struggling with debt, went missing Monday while onboard a patrol boat near the island of Yeonpyeong, about 10 kilometers south of the de-facto maritime border.
North Korea's statement instead claims that their officers fired warning shots at the South Korean official, then found a raft with only blood and burned the raft according to protocol. The statement also does not include any mention of South Korean officials' assertion that the man had been trying to defect to North Korea.
The statement reads: "At the boat captain's decision, soldiers shot about a dozen rounds at the intruder... Our soldiers concluded that the intruder had been killed, and burned the buoy he was on in the sea, in compliance with the national emergency quarantine protocols."
Kim Jong Un's rare apology came after many were concerned that the incident could send inter-Korean relations tumbling. After Kim ramped up tensions with Seoul earlier this year, North Korea since June has been focused on more pressing domestic issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic and devastating floods. The killing threatened to increase pressure on both sides after a year already full of missile tests and harsh rhetoric from Pyongyang.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that Kim's apology reduced the risk of escalation, "The shooting incident was also turning South Korean public opinion against offering peace and humanitarian assistance to Pyongyang. Kim's diplomatic move avoids a potential fight in the short-term and preserves the option of reaping longer-term benefits from Seoul."
The incident also followed other news of defectors from the South. In July, a 24-year-old refugee from North Korea swam back into the country after being accused of rape in South Korea. The incident caused North Korea to lock down a border area, apparently due to concerns over the coronavirus.
North Korea has since issued "shoot-to-kill" orders to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country from China earlier this month, according to General Robert Abrams, the top U.S. commander in South Korea.
"North Korea is locked down almost as in a wartime situation to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks," added Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.