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Explained: Why has Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology to South Korea?

When did North Korea issue an apology? Has an incident like this happened before? What does the apology mean for inter-Korea relations?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 27, 2020 10:50:01 am
kim jong un, north Korea leader, Kim Jong Un apology, Kim jong un apology to North Korea, indian expressPeople watch a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, September 25, 2020. (AP Photo)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has recently issued a rare apology to his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in for the killing of a South Korean official at a time when relations between the two countries are at an impasse.

What has happened?

Yesterday, South Korea accused North Korea of firing a shot at an unarmed South Korean civil servant and claimed that the North Korea soldiers subsequently incinerated his body. South Korea identified the civil servant as a 47-year-old man who worked for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries’ West Sea Fisheries Management Service.

When did North Korea issue an apology?

On Friday, North Korea’s Unification Front Department, which deals with South-North ties, sent a letter addressed to Seoul’s presidential office, in which Jong-un outlined the events and expressed his regret. “I have apologetic thoughts to President Moon Jae-in and compatriots of the South for the unfortunate incident that took place in our waters,” the statement said as per a report published in The Korea Herald. The letter also mentioned that the civil servant was killed by North Korean soldiers.

As per the South Korean defence ministry, on September 22, the 47-year-old official was on an inspection vessel and had been floating in waters north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea, when he was shot by soldiers aboard a North Korean patrol boat. The ministry maintains that after firing the shots, the soldiers incinerated the floating corpse by pouring oil on it. The letter from North Korea, however, differs with the official South Korean account and says that the North Korean soldiers did not burn the body, but only the “floatation device”.

Has an incident like this happened before?

In 2008, a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard at Mount Kumgang when she entered an area that was off-limits for South Korean tourists. She entered this area while walking alongside a beach. After the incident, North Korea expressed regret over the tourist’s killing and refused to take part in a joint investigation of the incident. The incident also led to the suspension of the Mount Kumgang tourism program, which was active since 1998.

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What does the apology mean for inter-Korea relations?

According to a report published in The Korea Times, North Korea’s “unexpected apology” is being seen by experts as an effort by the country to maintain the status quo between the two Koreas and is an attempt to not draw international criticism over the incident.

One interpretation of the incident itself is that the corpse was burnt to keep COVID-19 out of the country, especially since North Korea is preparing for a military parade on October 10 to mark the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the ruling Workers’ Party.

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