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[Editorial] NK’s buck-passing

Pyongyang blames Seoul over fatal shooting of S. Korean in its waters

Regarding its killing of a South Korean fisheries official at the West Sea on Sept. 22, the North said Friday that the incident happened because the South failed to exercise proper control over its people.

Through its Korean Central News Agency, North Korea argued that South Korea was the first to blame for the shooting death of its citizen.

The North overturned its position 35 days after its leader Kim Jong-un offered an apology on Sept. 25 saying that he feels “very sorry.”

It even denounced South Korean opposition parties for condemning the North over the incident.

North Korean soldiers fired at the unarmed, exhausted South Korean civilian while he was drifting reportedly in life vest clinging to a floating object. They fired at him even after he identified himself. The North cannot argue that it was an unavoidable act of self-defense. Nevertheless, it tried to shift the responsibility for its act of brutality onto the South.

Amid a simmering public fury, the government under President Moon Jae-in proposed a joint investigation and the restoration of an inter-Korean military communication line, but it was a naive hope to expect a sincere response from Pyongyang.

The North abruptly backed out of Kim’s apology probably because the incident is receiving attention from the international community. The issue was formally discussed at the United Nations. UN rapporteur on North Korean human rights said that the incident appears to be an arbitrary killing of a civilian, which violates international human rights law. The South Korean Ministry of National Defense is considering whether to provide related military intelligence if the UN investigates the incident.

North Korea criticized the South for trying to turn the incident into an international plot against it. It also made a threat that South Korea will meet with a bigger disaster if its conservatives continue speaking ill of the North.

The Moon administration must not act passively regarding the international community raising issues with North Korea’s human rights measures, out of concerns that they may discomfort the North.

Pyongyang went further from denying that it burned out the dead body of the South Korean. It noted that the South Korean military authorities “already revealed truth” about whether the corpse was damaged or not.

Two days after North Korean soldiers shot dead the drifting South Korean at sea, the military in Seoul announced that it was able to “confirm that they had incinerated his dead body.” The ministry described a related scene graphically, saying that North Korean soldiers wearing gas masks poured oil on the corpse. It said the announcement was based on the analysis of intelligence.

But as the North claimed that it did not incinerate his body but only the floating material because he disappeared after being fired at, the South Korean government began to search for the body. The search seems designed to show that the South Korean military announcement was wrong while North Korea was right. The search is still underway.

South Korean Defense Minister told lawmakers in the National Assembly that the ministry “expressed a presumed fact (about the incineration) too directly and assertively.” The minister overturned the official announcement of the ministry. That’s why the North argues that the South military authorities disclosed the truth that the North did not incinerate the body.

It was found later that the government could have asked the North to rescue the floating South Korean, through communication lines used by merchant ships, hours after he went missing. But it did not even try. Six hours before the North shot him dead, the South knew that it had detained him. It wasted critical time for rescue.

The South Korean president was silent about the incident for days. His government evaluated Kim’s apology highly, noting that it was “very unusual.” In his policy address to the National Assembly on Tuesday, Moon did not say such expressions as “the South Korean was killed or shot dead,” but called the incident merely “the death of a South Korean citizen.”

Moon said that the incident served as an occasion to show again that peace with North Korea was urgent. He showed an obsession with peace, no matter what atrocities the North commits.

This way, it is hard to stop Pyongyang from having its own way.
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