SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea called on Sunday for a joint investigation with North Korea in an effort to resolve key details over the killing of a South Korean official at sea that prompted a rare apology from the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
The South Korean official, whose name has not been released but who worked on a ship monitoring fishing boats near the disputed western sea border between the two Koreas, was shot by North Korean troops on Tuesday after he was found adrift in North Korean waters.
In an apology offered on Friday, Mr. Kim calling the events “unexpected” and “unfortunate.” But the two Koreas have differed over major details in their accounts of what happened.
South Korea insisted that the man had been trying to defect, pointing out that he had left his shoes on the boat and entered the water wearing a life jacket. South Korean officials told reporters, without elaborating, that they had “special intelligence” indicating that the man had conveyed his intentions to defect to North Koreans. They also accused North Korean soldiers of burning the official’s body at sea.
South Korea condemned the killing as an “atrocious” and “stunning” act.
But North Korea called the South Korean official an “illegal intruder” who failed to explain his presence in North Korean waters on a floating device when he was confronted by a North Korean patrol ship. The North acknowledged its troops had shot and killed the man, but said that they could not find his body and that his floating device had been burned according to disease-control guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Since there are gaps in the findings by South and North Korea, we request a joint investigation so we can establish the truth as soon as possible,” Suh Choo-suk, a deputy director of national security in South Korea, said on Sunday.
The request for a joint inquiry followed an emergency meeting between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and security-related cabinet ministers earlier Sunday to discuss the killing of the official.
After the meeting, South Korea also called for the restoration of hotlines between the militaries of both Koreas to help a joint investigation. North Korea severed all official communication channels with the South in June, accusing Seoul of not living up to its promises to improve economic and other ties with the North.
There was no immediate response from the North.
Dozens of South Korean Navy and Coast Guard ships and planes have been searching the waters near the disputed inter-Korean border to find the official’s body.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday that North Korea planned to hand over the official’s body should it be found in its waters. But it accused the South Korean ships of intruding in their search, and warned of “another unfortunate incident.”
South Korea said that its ships had not crossed the Northern Limit Line, a western maritime sea border unilaterally set by the American-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Although South Korea patrols waters south of the Northern Limit Line, the North does not recognize it. It insists on another borderline further to the south and regularly accuses the South of violating its territorial waters.