SEOUL—Kim Jong Un expressed regret on Friday over the death of a South Korean official, saying it shot him as part of measures to battle the coronavirus, the South's national security adviser said.
North Korea's United Front Department, in charge of cross-border ties, sent a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office a day after Seoul officials said North Korean soldiers killed a South Korean before dousing his body in oil and setting it on fire.
The message came as Moon faced intense political fallout over the incident, which coincided with a renewed push for policy to engage Pyongyang.
The letter cited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as saying he was "very sorry" that the “unexpected” and “unfortunate” incident disappointed the South Korean public and should not have happened, Moon's security adviser Suh Hoon said.
The soldiers fired more than 10 shots at the man, a South Korean fisheries official who went missing this week, after he did not reveal his identity and tried to flee, Suh said, citing the letter.
When the troops came near the man’s floating object, they only found lots of blood on the floating object and the man wasn't seen. The letter said they burned the floatation device, according to their anti-virus manuals, and not his body.
"The troops could not locate the unidentified trespasser during a search after firing the shots, and burned the device under national emergency disease prevention measures," Suh told a briefing, referring to the letter.
Suh said the official could have been trying to defect because he left his shoes on the ship and put on a life jacket and resorted to a floating object when he was found in North Korean waters. Suh also cited an unidentified circumstantial evidence indicating the official’s defection attempt.
But some experts say those aren’t enough to conclude that the official tried to defect.