North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has issued a rare apology after his soldiers shot dead a South Korean official.
The 47-year-old fisheries official was killed this week after crossing into North Korean waters, with sources claiming he may have been attempting to defect.
After the execution, North Korean troops wearing gas masks reportedly poured fuel oil on the body and set it on fire.
The North Korean leader has now said sorry in a letter to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in for what he claimed was an “unexpected” and “unfortunate incident”.
The despot said: "Comrade Kim Jong Un, the State Affairs Commission chairman, feels very sorry to give big disappointment to President Moon Jae-in and South Korean citizens because an unexpected, unfortunate incident happened.”
He claimed troops shot dead the official to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to South Korea’s national security adviser Suh Hoon.
The apology comes amid strained relations between the North and South, with a stand-off between Pyongyang and Washington over the North's nuclear programme.
It is highly unusual for the rogue state to apologise to its rival.
The letter from the tyrant said soldiers fired more than 10 shots at the man after he did not reveal his identity and tried to flee.
But it claimed they burned a floatation device he was using, according to their anti-virus manuals, and not his body.
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Referring to the letter, Suh Hoon said: ”The troops could not locate the unidentified trespasser during a search after firing the shots, and burned the device under national emergency disease prevention measures.”
South Korea’s defence ministry said the official, a father-of-two, was on his patrol boat about six miles from the border with the North, near the island of Yeonpyeong, when he disappeared on Monday.
The killing – the first of a South Korean citizen by North Korean troops for a decade – sparked a huge backlash, with the South Korean military demanding answers.
The shooting shocked many South Koreans, prompting the country’s president to issue an unusually stringent response calling it "unpardonable."
In 2008, North Korean troops shot to death a South Korean tourist who strolled into an off-limits area while staying at a North Korean resort complex.
This led to a halt of inter-Korean tourism projects.
But President Moon has pledged to reopen the tour programmes.
And he recently proposed a new regional disease control and health initiative including North Korea to cope with crises like Covid-19 and strained ties with Pyongyang.
The two leaders have recently exchanged letters to share hopes to rebuild relations after tackling the coronavirus.
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