North Korea on Friday placed the blame for its killing last month of a South Korean fisheries official on Seoul’s “improper control of the citizen”.
The incident, which occurred when North Korean troops shot the official after he drifted into the country’s territorial waters “was the result of improper control of the citizen by the south side in the sensitive hotspot”, particularly during tensions over the coronavirus pandemic, state-run news agency KCNA said.
“Therefore, the blame for the incident first rests with the south side. This is our invariable stand,” it added.
Pyongyang further said that its side “could not but take self-defensive measure” as the supposed defector “had made an illegal intrusion into the waters” of the North and had apparently tried to flee.
Pyongyang has previously acknowledged that about 10 rounds were fired at the man and that he was not visible after the shooting.
The 47-year-old man was shot while he was adrift in the North Korean side of the Yellow Sea, according to the South’s military. He went missing the previous day while on duty near the western border island of Yeonpyeong.
The killing has triggered a huge political firestorm in South Korea, with conservatives launching fierce attacks on liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours engagement with the North.
The incident prompted a rare apology from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who said through his national security adviser that he was “very sorry” for the “unexpected and disgraceful event”.
South Korean military officials say the man was interrogated while in the water for several hours and expressed a desire to defect, but was killed after an “order from superior authority”.
They also said North Koreans poured oil over his body and burned it, although Pyongyang maintains the official’s flotation device was set on fire in accordance with emergency coronavirus regulations.
In Friday’s statement, KCNA said that “since then we have tried our best to retrieve the dead body from the waters of the West Sea and return it to his family, but to no avail, to our regret”.
Analysts say the North is looking to placate its neighbour after the shooting – the first time its forces have killed a citizen from the South in 10 years.
That sentiment was echoed again on Friday.
“We do not want to see the repetition of any unpleasant precedents in which accidental incidents led the north-south relations to a catastrophe. This is our stand,” the KCNA message said.
“We are regretful for this and have decided to take sustained necessary measures in the future, too, in the relevant field,” it added.
But, it said, Seoul had gone on to participate in “unsavoury acts of insulting our good faith and aiming at maximising distrust”.
Following the incident, “all sorts of slandering against the DPRK has gone beyond the tolerance”, it said, using an acronym for North Korea.
The message comes with inter-Korean ties in a deep freeze, and amid a standoff in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.