SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean troops shot dead a South Korean fisheries official who went missing earlier this week, before dousing his body in oil and setting it on fire in what was likely an effort to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, South Korea’s military said on Thursday.
South Korea’s military said evidence suggested the man was attempting to defect to the North when he was reported missing from a fisheries boat on Monday about 10 km (6 miles) south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed demarcation of military control that acts as the de facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas.
Why the 47-year-old official was shot was not known but North Korean troops appear to have been acting under anti-coronavirus orders, South Korea’s military said.
The presidential Blue House’s national security office said the killing was a “crime against humanity”, and called on North Korea to apologise and put measures in place to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents in the future.
Citing intelligence sources, the military said the unidentified man appeared to have been questioned at sea, north of the NLL and about 38 km (24 miles) from where he went missing, before he was executed on an “order from a superior authority”. Troops in gas masks then doused the body in oil and set it on fire.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the North’s shooting of a South Korean civilian was “shocking” and “unpardonable”, Yonhap news agency said, citing a presidential Blue House spokesman.
Moon also ordered the South Korean military to tighten their alert to protect the lives of citizens.
The military said it sent a message on Wednesday to the North through the land border demanding explanations, but has not received any response yet.
“Our military strongly condemns such an atrocity, and strongly demands North Korea provide explanations and punish those who are responsible,” General Ahn Young-ho, who is in charge of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a briefing.
The US military commander in South Korea said this month that North Korean troops had been given “shoot-to-kill orders” to prevent the coronavirus entering the country.