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Brother of man killed by N. Korea rejects defection claims, urges fair probe

In letter to family, President Moon vows to uncover truth

The brother of fisheries official who was fatally shot by North Korean soldiers on Wednesday submits request for disclosure of the records of the Coast Guard`s initial probe into the case. (Yonhap)
The brother of fisheries official who was fatally shot by North Korean soldiers on Wednesday submits request for disclosure of the records of the Coast Guard`s initial probe into the case. (Yonhap)

The brother of a South Korean official who was slain at sea by North Korean soldiers last month once again rejected the Coast Guard’s claims that the deceased had defected from the South, calling for a “thorough and fair investigation.”

Lee Rae-jin, 55, said over the phone that the maritime authorities should disclose to the public how they spent the hours immediately after they became aware that his brother was missing in the waters near the border.

“It should frighten us that South Koreans can be left to die under the watch of our forces at the Northern Limit Line. The people deserve to know if our country was faithful in its duty to protect the life of its citizen,” he said.

“Twenty-four days have passed since my brother lost his life to North Korea’s brutality. Yet law enforcement is still unable to provide an acceptable explanation,” he said.

“Authorities say my brother supposedly swam 38 kilometers against the tide on a floating device for around 30 hours with the intention of defecting to the North. That is not realistically possible.”

He also said President Moon Jae-in’s letter to the family, which arrived by mail Tuesday morning, was “somewhat disheartening.” “There was nothing in the letter that the president hasn’t already said publicly through the press,” he said.

Earlier this month, the teenage son of the deceased official sent an open letter to the president, saying he could not trust reports that his father had defected. “My dad was a hardworking public servant and he loved his family. He is not that kind of person,” the high school junior said in the letter.

“Mr. President, please help me, my mom and little sister find him,” he said.

In the printed letter, the president sent his “deep condolences” and asked the Lees to “wait for the findings from the probe and search efforts.” “I will see to it that the procedure will be transparent and the truth will be brought to light,” he said.

But Lee said it was worrying that the Coast Guard was leading the probe into the case, as “they themselves might be responsible.” He accused the maritime police of snubbing his request for help when his brother went missing, wasting time that could have been used to save him and hastily concluding he had defected on scanty evidence.

“The president gave us his word that he would help us find the truth. I hope that the Coast Guard will work to deliver on that promise.”

Of the president’s call on Oct. 8 for a declaration formally ending the Korean War (1950-53), he said, “I don’t think I’m in a position to comment on the president’s decisions. But I just regret the timing. I feel it might have come a bit too soon in the wake of what happened.”

He added that he would consider filing a petition with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea over the authorities’ decision to publicize details of his brother’s personal life, such as his recent divorce and financial stress.

Last week, Lee submitted an appeal for an investigation into his brother’s killing to the United Nations Human Rights Office in Seoul. He said he hopes more awareness in the international community will put pressure on the regime to enter into a dialogue.

“There should not be another family who loses their loved one this way. A promise has to be made internationally that there won’t be a recurrence,” he said.

The official, 47, was fatally shot in the North’s waters at around 9:40 p.m. on Sept. 22 after he went missing the previous day during a patrol duty.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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