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(2nd LD) S. Korean military was eavesdropping when N. Korea issued order to kill official: sources

17:09 September 29, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; UPDATES throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean military captured in real time through wiretapping the North Korean military's order to kill a South Korean civil servant last week, parliamentary sources here said Tuesday.

According to the sources with access to the assembly's defense and intelligence committees, the South Korean military's intelligence unit was eavesdropping for hours from when the North Korean military spotted the South Korean official drifting on the northern side of the inter-Korean maritime border around 3:30 p.m last Tuesday.

The 47-year-old official in charge of overseeing fishing activities was shot dead by the North's troops about six hours later, according to the South Korean defense ministry on Thursday. It also said the body was set on fire at sea on the same day.

Through the wiretapping operations into the North Korean military's internal communications, the South Korean military verified that the national expressed his wish to defect to North Korea to the North side, the sources said.

At first, the North Korean side seemed to have the intention to rescue the man and discussed ways to bring him ashore, they said.

But it changed its mind at around 9 p.m. the same day and issued an order to kill the official to the military commander at the maritime site.

The order was conveyed to the scene through North Korea's naval command to a captain-level skipper at the scene, according to the sources.

The skipper asked questions to verify the order again, and later at around 9:40 p.m. a report was made from the scene to inform the higher command that the order had been accomplished, according to the conversations of the North Korean military, provided by the sources.

The sources said the South Korean military shared its intelligence immediately with officials at Cheong Wae Dae right after the killing order was implemented Tuesday. After that, it was finally reported to President Moon Jae-in in a written format at around 8:30 a.m. the next day.

The military maintains that it took a lot of time to put together and analyze pieces of information before the situation could be reported to Cheong Wa Dae.

The new body of information concerning the shooting death of the South Korean citizen came as the government is facing a backlash for failing to rescue the national.

It also contradicts North Korea's claim last Friday that the man only murmured his name to the North Korean soldiers when its military found and addressed him from a distance at sea.

Earlier in the day, the main opposition floor leader also said the defense ministry has confirmed with the help of its special intelligence that North Korea ordered the burning of the body of the South Korean official after he was shot dead.

"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 has been a point of dispute because the communist country has partly rebutted the South Korean defense 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)

pbr@yna.co.kr

graceoh@yna.co.kr
(END)

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