South Korea suggests joint probe with North over shooting

SEOUL • South Korea urged the North yesterday to further investigate the fatal shooting of a South Korean fisheries official and suggested it could be an unprecedented joint probe by the two sides, as public and political outrage over the killing grew.

The move came as a rare apology from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to have failed to soothe public criticism over the handling of the incident by President Moon Jae-in's government.

After a National Security Council meeting last night, South Korea's presidential office said it would call for a joint probe into the case with the North if needed, saying there were discrepancies in accounts of the accident from the two sides.

The South Korean military last Thursday said soldiers from the North killed the man, doused his body in fuel and set it on fire near the sea border.

But the Pyongyang government said in a message on Friday that its soldiers shot the "illegal intruder" and denied burning his body.

The two Koreas have not conducted joint probes into previous accidents, including the death of a South Korean tourist who was shot at the North's mountain resort of Kumgang in 2008, and the North's bombing of Yeonpyeong Island which killed four South Koreans in 2010. The two Koreas are technically still at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

"A chance of a joint probe is low. How on earth can we investigate the North Korean military?" said University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin in Seoul.

The North has tightened border controls due to the Covid-19 outbreak, which further complicates the prospect of the joint investigation, he said.

"Given Kim quickly offered a rare apology, there is a possibility of an exchange of written questions and answers between two Koreas," Professor Yang said.

The opposition People Power Party yesterday said Mr Kim's apology was not genuine, calling on the Moon government to send the case to the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council.

The Moon administration faces an intense political backlash over how it responded to the incident, which coincided with a renewed push by the President for engagement with Pyongyang.

Critics questioned why the military did not attempt to save the man despite allegedly spotting him six hours before he was shot dead.

"Peace is important in inter-Korean relations, but the most important thing is the lives of our people. Our people were shot by North Korea and why there is no such movement as 'Korean lives matter' in South Korea?" said Mr Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to London who defected to the South, and became a lawmaker.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2020, with the headline 'S. Korea suggests joint probe with North over shooting'. Print Edition | Subscribe