President Moon Jae-in (left) and leader Kim Jong-un hold the Pyongyang Joint Declaration at the third inter-Korean summit in September 2018. (Joint Press Corps)
A day after South Korea’s presidential office described North Korea’s killing of a Seoul fisheries official as a violation of the “spirit” of the inter-Korean military pact and not the accord itself, experts on Friday heaped strong criticism on the top office.
North Korea on Tuesday shot dead the official in the West Sea north of the inter-Korean maritime border and is thought to have burned the body there. South Korean intelligence suspects the man was attempting defection.
In a communique to Cheong Wa Dae, the North admitted to the killing, but denied having set the body on fire. His body was not to be found after the shootings and they burned what the man was floating on, it claimed.
“Violating the ‘spirit,’ as Cheong Wa Dae put it, is worse than breaching a specific clause in the pact, because it brings down everything the accord stands for,” said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
The military pact in question was signed between Seoul and Pyongyang at the third inter-Korean summit in 2018. It states the agreement for the two neighbors to stop aggression, build trust and work for enduring peace on the peninsula, with provisions banning specific acts of aggression.
“A pact cannot be exhaustive and lay out every instance of violation, so it is built on premises that the parties will work in good faith to honor what the pact aims to achieve,” Choi said, adding Pyongyang’s killing of the official for whatever reason before going through due process initiated hostility.
Other experts concurred, saying now was not the time to dwell on technicalities but to remind ourselves that the accord seeks to resolve antagonism and the North waged a direct affront on the underlying principle.
“What seems to be out of order is that the presidential office leaned on a technicality that small firearms are not prohibited at the sea where the official was killed,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.
Shin added, “And suppose the official was really going for defection as the office claimed, do we shoot and burn everyone who does that?"
"Legalese aside, it’s beyond civility.”
Meanwhile, international rights groups slammed North Korea.
“There is no other state that has cruelly taken an innocent life and burned the body to ‘prevent’ COVID-19,” Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told The Korea Herald.
Before the communique was delivered Friday afternoon, South Korean officials said the North seemed to have burned the body out of worry that the man could be a virus carrier. A military official in Seoul said the regime is gunning down everyone coming near its border to keep the coronavirus away.
“This is why we believe that the regime of North Korea is the worst human rights violator in the world. And this is just an example that illustrates that for all the world to see,” Suzanne Scholte, co-vice chair of the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told Voice of America.
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook told the parliamentary defense committee Thursday the ministry had spotted the official drifting off the maritime border into the North well before the North Korean troops opened fire on him.
“We honestly didn’t think the North would go for it (killing him),” Suh told lawmakers who were hammering him for failing to prevent the event.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org