SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, offered a rare apology on Friday for the killing of a South Korean government official at sea by soldiers from the North, South Korean officials said.
“I am deeply sorry that an unexpected and unfortunate thing has happened in our territorial waters that delivered a big disappointment to President Moon Jae-in and the people of the South,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying in a telephone message delivered to the South through the inter-Korean border.
The South Korean fisheries official went missing from his patrol vessel on Monday, and he was shot and killed in North Korean waters on Tuesday while apparently trying to defect, according to officials in the South. The North Korean soldiers then poured oil on the man’s body and set it on fire for fear that he might be carrying the coronavirus, the officials said.
The South’s officials said the man had appeared to be trying to defect to the North because he wore a life jacket, but added that they were still investigating his motives.
The killing sent shock waves through South Korea. Mr. Moon and his government immediately condemned the killing, calling it “stunning” and “atrocious” and demanding that North Korea apologize.
With all official channels of communication with the North cut off since June, South Korea sent a message through a cross-border telephone hotline between North Korea and the United Nations Command, demanding that the North explain why it had killed a South Korean citizen.
The contents of Mr. Kim’s rare expression of contrition were disclosed to the news media by Suh Hoon, director of national security at Mr. Moon’s presidential Blue House.