North Korea Warns South Away from Waters amid Search for Killed Official

North Korea has warned the South not to enter its territorial waters as troops search for the remains of an official who was killed in Northern waters last week.

The South Korean fisheries official was shot dead by North Korean troops last week after being found adrift in Northern waters, the New York Times reported. The name of the official has not been released, but he worked on a ship monitoring fishing boats near the disputed maritime between the two nations.

South Korea's military accused Northern troops of burning the official's body after he was killed, a charge denied by Pyongyang. The South is now searching for the official's remains close to where the incident took place.

But a statement from Pyongyang carried by its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) warned that the South's search risked raising tensions further.

"We will never overlook any intrusion into our territorial waters, and we seriously warn the south side against it," the North said, according to KCNA. It added: "We urge the south side to immediately halt the intrusion across the military demarcation line in the West Sea that may lead to an escalation of tensions."

The North warned that the Southern search "arouses our due vigilance as it may lead to another awful incident." The Chosun Ilbo reported that the South has deployed 39 ships and six aircraft to look for the missing official's body.

The killing of the official prompted a rare apology from North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un. The young leader said he was "very sorry" about the incident, according to a message quoted by South Korean presidential adviser Suh Hoon.

The letter sent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in also said the shooting was "unexpected" and "unfortunate."

The message—detailed by The Associated Press—said North Korean troops found the official on a floating object and fired blank rounds at the man after he refused to answer questions. They then fired 10 live rounds at the official after he tried to flee, the message claimed.

The North said that troops then approached the floating object, finding blood but no sign of the official. They then burned the official's boat in line with North Korean coronavirus safety measures.

Defense Minister Suh Wook told a parliamentary committee meeting on Thursday that the official may have been trying to defect to the North when he was killed. Suh said the man left his shoes on his ship, donned a lifejacket and boarded a floating object.

The South has condemned the "atrocious" killing and pushed Pyongyang to punish those responsible. Moon has been criticized for a perceived weak response to the incident. On Monday, the president apologized for the public "shock and fury," and acknowledged that his government's job is to protect its citizens "without any excuses."

But Moon also said he hoped a joint investigation with the North into the incident could spark better cross-border cooperation, which has deteriorated in recent months. "I hope that we will be able to revive the embers of dialogue and open the waterway for cooperation starting with resolving this case," he told reporters.

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North Korean soldiers look across the border with South Korea on September 16, 2020 in Panmunjom, South Korea. A Southern official was shot dead by North Korean soldiers last week when found adrift in waters off the coast of the peninsula. Park Tae-hyun-Korea - Pool/Getty Images/Getty