SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean government civil servant drifting in their waters and then allegedly burned the corpse, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
“We sternly warn that all responsibility for the brutal act committed towards our citizen lies solely with North Korea," Ahn Young-ho, a top official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a press briefing Thursday morning, demanding the North’s explanation and punishment for the persons in charge.
Pyongyang has not commented.
The 47-year-old official at the South’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries was reported missing on Monday from a fisheries patrol and monitoring boat on duty just 12 miles away from North Korean shores, close to South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.
South Korea did not clarify why and how the man drifted into North Korea, but according to defense ministry officials, they have obtained intelligence that North Koreans discovered the man, father of two, “looking haggard and exhausted clutching a floating device” wearing a life jacket. North Korean troops wearing gas masks then questioned him “at a distance,” then allegedly fired shots.
It is unclear how South Korean officials obtained the information.
Ties between the two Koreas remain frosty amid a deadlock in nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States. In June, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its territory to protest South Korean civilian leafleting campaign against the North.
At the height of their Cold War rivalry, North Korea often forcibly towed South Korean fishing boats operating near the sea boundary into its waters, holding some of those on board and returning others. No such incidents have been reported in recent times.
Defections of South Koreans to North Korea are highly unusual. More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea in the past 20 years for political and economic reasons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.