October 07, 2020 12:21
President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday responded with "understanding" to an open letter from the son of a South Korean official who was killed by North Korean soldiers last month.
Moon dodged addressing the public directly but had himself quoted by a Cheong Wa Dae spokesman as saying, "I understand the feelings of a son who lost his father. My heart also grieves."
The family of the official, who was shot by North Korean soldiers in the West Sea on Sept. 22, doused in fuel and set ablaze, is demanding an investigation of the murder by the UN and wants the man's honor restored.
Government apologists have claimed that the man wanted to defect to North Korea, but the official's family denies this.
His elder brother Lee Rae-jin on Tuesday visited the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul and requested an independent probe of the killing.
The request is poignant since Moon hushed up the killing for two days until after he had delivered a speech calling for peace with North Korea to a virtual session of the UN General Assembly.
At a press conference, Lee raised the possibility of joining hands with the parents of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea in 2016 on a charge of subversion and died after he was released in a coma in 2017. He vowed to "tell the world about the brutality of North Korea."
Lee was accompanied by People Power Party lawmaker Ha Tae-keung, who said, "We can sue North Korea in the same manner as the Warmbier case."
Warmbier's parents have been awarded damages by a U.S. court that are to be taken out of any North Korean assets squirreled away in America.
On Monday, the official's son wrote to Moon, "What was the government doing while my father was brutally killed?"
Moon only responded that an investigation is ongoing and asked the son to wait for the results. "I would like to send my words of condolence and hope that you endure these difficult times along with your mother and sibling," he added according to the spokesman. The spokesman added Moon intends to write back in person but will not disclose the details to the media.
The official, who worked as a fisheries inspector, went missing from a patrol boat on Sept. 21 and was spotted by a North Korean Navy ship the following morning. Accounts differ what happened next. The South Korean military says the man's captors kept him in the water for six hours while they interrogated him, before "an order from above" came to kill him. They then fired a dozen rounds into him before setting him ablaze.
But North Korean leader Kim Jon-un, in a letter of apology to Moon, claimed the official was killed immediately and only his life vest was set on fire while the body had disappeared.
The military, which looked on while the official was being first kept in the freezing water and then murdered, later claimed that the man must have wanted to defect because he left his shoes behind on board and wore a life vest. But life vests are mandatory on patrol boats, and no evidence of the shoe story has been presented so far.
Neighbors and family of the official say it would have been madness to choose that route to defect to North Korea even if he had wanted to.
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