A tragedy of errorsNorth Korea on Monday fatally shot an exhausted South Korean fisheries official who had been adrift for hours near the Yeonpyeong Islands on the West Sea and burned his corpse. We are enraged at the North’s abominable act. North Korea has allegedly adopted the principle to kill any outsider who approaches within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of its territory since the outbreak of Covid-19.
But the act of murdering an unarmed man and burning his body cannot be excused in any way. Even during wartime, homicide of civilians is strictly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The slaughter also violates the Sept. 19 Military Agreement signed between South and North Korea, which banned any acts of hostilities in the sensitive waters of the West Sea.
Our military intelligence authorities somehow detected the details of his tragic death. If the military had demanded his repatriation from the outset, we could have avoided such a tragedy. And yet, our military was sitting on its hands saying ‘it’s not our territorial waters.’ That constitutes a brazen neglect of its duty to protect the people. The military even excused itself by saying it did not expect North Korea to go that far.
The official worked in the tense waters and was a husband and father of two, showing no sign of pro-North Korea tendencies. Yet the military said he had been murdered after attempting to flee to North Korea. Even if he really tried to defect to North Korea, we wonder why North Korea shot him to death. When a North Korean defector returned to North Korea in July after committing sexual assault in the South, North Korea welcomed him.
The timing of our military’s announcement raises serious questions. After keeping mum on the case for nearly two days, the military revealed it on Thursday morning, suggesting a cover-up. The way the Blue House reacted is also strange. The presidential office summoned a National Security Council meeting just three hours after the military intelligence report on the episode. The case was surely briefed to President Moon Jae-in. Nevertheless, Moon went ahead with his video speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday in which he pleaded for a declaration to end the Korean War. His aides said his video address had been recorded a week earlier.
The Blue House’s decision to let his video speech be aired in the United Nations under such circumstances deserves strong criticism for his blind adherence to make peace with the North. The presidential office must make clear what really happened in the Blue House. The ruling party also must accept the opposition party’s demand to clear suspicions and hold officials accountable for such a fiasco.