South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in says military hotlines with Pyongyang should be restored to prevent unexpected incidents after it was revealed that North Korean troops had shot dead a South Korean fisheries official who had gone missing.
Restoring hotlines would facilitate communications and future rescue operations, Moon told a meeting with senior secretaries on Monday, as both sides continued searching for the man’s body.
On Monday, South Korean officials said they had expanded their search for the man, amid warnings from North Korea that its neighbour was raising tension by intruding into its territorial waters.
South Korea’s military has accused North Korean soldiers of killing the man, dousing his body in fuel and setting it on fire near the maritime border, apparently in an effort to prevent the risk of a novel coronavirus outbreak.
Following the incident, officials in Seoul called on Pyongyang to agree to a joint probe into the incident, which prompted an apology from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who said the killing should not have happened.
Meanwhile, Moon expressed his condolences over the death of the man, calling it a “regrettable and unfortunate” incident.
He offered an apology to the South Korean people, who were shocked and angered by the incident.
Moon stressed the need to find the truth behind the incident and explore “substantive” ways to prevent similar incidents from happening.
He also noted Kim’s unusual apology for the incident, saying it suggested his desire to avoid any breakdown in inter-Korean relations.
He voiced hope that the tragic incident would eventually turn into an opportunity for the two Koreas to resume dialogue.
In June, North Korea severed the military hotlines with South Korea in retaliation for actions taken by groups of defectors who had been sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
The decision to cut communications marked a setback in relations amid efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for relief on tough international sanctions.
A week later, Pyongyang also blew up the inter-Korean liaison office building in the border town of Kaesong.
The office was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas.
The Korean Peninsula remains technically at war because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.