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(LEAD) Defense ministry verified N. Korean order to burn body of dead official: opposition leader

14:01 September 29, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS defense ministry's stance in last 3 paras, photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry has confirmed with the help of its special intelligence that North Korea ordered the burning of the body of a South Korean fisheries official after he was shot dead by its soldiers last week, the main opposition floor leader said Tuesday.

"The Ministry of National Defense has verified through special intelligence that (North Korea) told (its officials) to apply fuel oil and burn (the body)," People Power Party (PPP) floor leader Joo Ho-young said in an interview with YTN Radio.

"It's not what the defense ministry judged for itself, but what it has heard accurately (through special intelligence)," Joo told the radio channel.

The Mugunghwa 10 guidance boat is moored at a quay of the West Sea Fisheries Management Office in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, on Sept. 28, 2020, after returning from the inter-Korean maritime border in the West Sea. A fisheries ministry official was shot to death by North Korean soldiers in the North Korean waters on Sept. 22 after he allegedly attempted to defect to the North while on duty aboard the ship. (Yonhap)

Whether the North burned the body after its military shot dead the 47-year-old South Korean fisheries official on the northern side of the inter-Korean maritime border last Tuesday has been a point of dispute.

The South Korean defense ministry said last Thursday North Korea shot and killed the official drifting at sea before dousing his body with oil and setting it on fire.

But in a following written notice to the South the next day, the North partly rebutted the ministry's announcement, saying it only burned a floating material after the man disappeared at sea following the North's firing of about 10 gunshots.

Joo accused the ruling Democratic Party of opting for the North Korean side of the story, and said the explanation by the South Korean defense ministry should be trusted.

The defense ministry stuck with its earlier assessment that the North burned the body.

"We've not given you any different accounts from what we explained last week," deputy spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik told a regular briefing. "As there are some differences in details, however, we are once again looking into related materials."

PPP lawmaker Han Ki-ho, who leads the party's task force on the case, also countered the North's claim by saying that the official was unlikely to have sunk after being shot, as he was wearing a life jacket, citing explanations by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

People Power Party floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young speaks during the party's protest rally at the National Assembly on Sept. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

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graceoh@yna.co.kr
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