President Moon expresses hope for rebooting dialogue with Pyongyang after ‘unfortunate’ killing of South Korean official


President Moon Jae-in has voiced his sadness and frustration over the killing of a South Korean official by North Korean troops but said the tragedy could serve as a springboard for renewed dialogue.

The shooting of the civil servant, who worked for the South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, was “regrettable and unfortunate,” Moon said on Monday. He called for further efforts to determine the circumstances leading up to the official’s death and said Seoul would work to develop “substantive” policies to ensure that a similar incident does not occur again.

The South Korean leader acknowledged the shock and anguish caused by killing, but he suggested that the tragedy could turn into an opportunity to restart reconciliation efforts with Pyongyang. 

The 47-year-old official went missing while inspecting the waters near the border between the two hostile neighbors. The civil servant reportedly jumped off his boat and drifted into North Korean waters. He was shot by North Korean soldiers as he attempted to flee while being interrogated. The South Korean military claims that the official had attempted to defect to the North, but his brother has disputed this theory. 

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a rare apology for the incident, describing it as “something that should not happen.”

However, a search operation launched by South Korea to locate the victim’s body has caused friction with the North. Pyongyang accused Seoul of using the search efforts as a pretext to send warships into its territorial waters. The “intrusion” could lead to an “escalation of tensions” in the region, North Korea warned.

Pyongyang and Seoul inked an agreement in 2018 that increased economic cooperation and led to demilitarization along the border. The progress was followed by denuclearization talks the next year, but these negotiations fell through after Pyongyang rejected a US proposal for sanctions relief in exchange for disarmament. Reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas have faltered in recent months. In June, Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office located in its territory, after the North complained that Seoul was not doing enough to stop defectors from sending leaflets and other anti-government literature across the border.

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