N Korean killing of Korean official deepens internal division

30-Sep-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The mystery behind the deadly shooting of a South Korean fisheries official in North Korea’s territorial waters last week is deepening the political and ideological divide in the South.

The government and the North Korean authorities are apparently at odds over how the official surnamed Lee, 47, was killed after going missing from a fisheries patrol boat, September 21, near the western sea border and floating into the North’s territorial waters.

Seoul said he was shot while attempting to defect while Pyongyang argues it was in response to Lee refusing to identify himself and trying to flee.

They also disagree over the whereabouts of Lee’s corpse, with the government saying it was burned by the North, which responded that it only set fire to a floating “object” he was holding onto and officers there have no clue where the body is.

This conflicting scenarios has left room for the rival political parties here to accuse each other of being pro-North Korea or having an outdated mindset regarding inter-Korean peace and related incidents.

Among the latter was an apology offered both by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the South Korean people over Lee’s death, and the National Assembly’s abortive attempt to adopt a resolution to denounce Pyongyang.

Announcing the results of an interim investigation, the Coast Guard said Tuesday that the official was trying to defect to the North. The announcement was based on intelligence received from the military, the analysis of tidal currents on the day of the incident and other circumstantial evidence.

“Based on the investigation so far, we believe that he intended to defect to the North,” Yoon Seong-hyun, chief of the investigation team, said during a press briefing.

He added the dead official “knew his way around” the waters off Yeonpyeong Island near the Northern Limit Line ? the de facto border ? where he went missing.

Regarding the direction of the current ? disputed “evidence” for or against a defection attempt ? Yoon said the official could not have reached the place he was spotted unless he swam to get there.

Yoon also said Lee was wearing a life jacket and hanging onto a floating object when he was spotted by the North Koreans who seemingly knew personal details about him such as name, age, height and hometown.

“An accident or a suicide was considered very unlikely, although the investigation team cannot not rule out such scenarios,” Yoon said.

The dead official’s older brother accused the Coast Guard of reaching a “conclusion without sufficient evidence” during a briefing with foreign correspondents late Tuesday.

The Coast Guard’s announcement, is unlikely to placate the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) nor the main opposition People Power Party, according to an analyst.

“The parties, instead of uncovering the truth, appear to be more interested in capitalising on Lee’s death to defend the government or ratchet up pressure on it,” Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University, said.

He argued the parties were “assessing the related incidents only with details pleasing to their ears.”

Shin referred to DPK lawmaker Hwang Hee who said Tuesday he was becoming “more convinced” that the dead official was attempting to defect.

Hwang, who leads the party’s special taskforce investing the case, said this judgment was based on evidence provided by joint South Korea-US intelligence bodies that he declined to identify.

The same day, People Power Party floor leader Joo Ho-young said in a radio interview that the North set the official’s body on fire using gasoline after shooting him.

Joo said one of his sources from the Ministry of National Defense used eavesdropping to confirm this.

In a separate media interview, Joo reprimanded President Moon for making an apology six days after the tragedy.

DPK floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon warned the main opposition not to “exploit Lee’s death” and revive Cold War-style confrontation within the country.



Category: Korea

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