Scathing letter from killed man's son touches Moon
President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday responded to a critical letter by the teenage son of a government worker killed by North Korean soldiers in the Yellow Sea last month.
“I understand the pain of a son who lost his father,” Moon said after he was briefed about the letter, according to presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok.
“My heart is also aching,” Moon said.
In the letter, the son denounced the government’s handling of the killing of his father, a 47-year-old employee of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries’ West Sea Fisheries Management Service who went missing on Sept. 21 in waters near the western inter-Korean maritime border. The next day, in waters north of the border, he was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers. The South Korean military has said the body of the man, who was surnamed Lee, was burned afterward.
On Sept. 29, the Coast Guard said its investigation showed that Lee had tried to defect to the North, which his family adamantly denies.
On Monday, the family made public a letter by Lee’s son, who is in the 11th grade, condemning Moon's government for doing nothing to rescue his father. It challenged the government’s claim that Lee was trying to defect, calling the argument a disgrace to his father’s honor.
“I want to ask the president,” he wrote, “if your children were suffering the agony that we are going through now, would you still act like this? I want to ask you why my father was found in the North Korean waters, what the country did to save his life and why it failed to rescue him...
“He was a public servant of the Republic of Korea, and he was a citizen of this country who deserved protection,” Lee’s son wrote.
The letter challenges the idea that Lee was defecting to the North. “His height was 180 centimeters [5 feet, 11 inches] and weight was 68 kilograms [150 pounds]. He was a skinny man who never learned swimming extensively. I want to ask if it really makes sense that my father was capable of swimming 38 kilometers [42.3 miles] against the current,” he wrote.
It also challenges the government’s conclusion that Lee had offered personal information to North Korean guards as an expression of his intention to defect. “When North Korean soldiers holding rifles ask you your name and hometown, who would not answer?” he wrote. “I think everybody would do their best to survive when their lives are threatened.”
Saying that his father was disgraced by the government’s announcement, Lee’s son urged Moon to restore his father’s honor. “And please help him to return to his family as soon as possible,” the son wrote, calling for a repatriation of his remains.
According to Moon’s spokesman, Moon wants the son to wait for the final outcome of a Coast Guard investigation and an ongoing search operation to recover Lee’s body. “I express my condolences to the son, hoping that he would be able to go through this painful time with his mother and sister,” Moon was quoted as saying.
Spokesman Kang said Moon will write a letter to the son.
Meanwhile, the victim’s elder brother, Lee Rae-jin, told the JoongAng Ilbo that Lee had no reason to defect because his life as a civil servant in the South was stable and successful. He showed four awards that Lee had received since he joined the Fisheries Ministry in 2012.
“My younger brother was just an ordinary public servant with a strong sense of duty,” Lee Rae-jin said. “My nephew could not go to school after media reported the government conclusion that he was defecting to the North. My heart broke when I read my nephew’s letter.”
On Tuesday, Lee Rae-jin asked the United Nations to conduct an investigation into his brother’s death. He held a press conference outside the United Nations Human Rights Office in Seoul.
He also said he will send a petition to Tomas Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea. “The North’s brutal killing of my brother must be revealed to the world to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident,” he said.
Around the same time, the UN Human Rights Office issued a statement on social media. The office “calls on both Koreas to undertake a prompt and impartial investigation into the killing of the ROK official working with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, and make its findings public,” it said. ROK is the acronym for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
Moon has proposed a joint investigation to North Korea, but Pyongyang has not responded. Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a rare apology to the South, saying he was “immensely sorry” for the “unexpected” killing of the official.
BY SER MYO-JA [email@example.com]