(ATTN: UPDATES with background info in 4th para, unification minister's view in last paras; COMBINES story slugged Moon-NK leader letter; ADDS photo)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Sept. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has offered an apology to the South Korean people for the killing of a fellow citizen by its military earlier this week, Cheong Wa Dae announced Friday.
In a formal notice sent to the South, the North conveyed Kim's message that he feels "very sorry" for greatly "disappointing" President Moon Jae-in and other South Koreans with the occurrence of the "unsavory" case in its waters, instead of helping them amid their suffering from the new coronavirus, according to Suh Hoon, director of national security at Cheong Wa Dae.
The North was informing the South of the results of its own probe into what happened in the notice sent by the United Front Department (UFD), a Workers' Party organ handling inter-Korean relations.
It is quite unusual for a North Korean leader to apologize formally to South Korea, officials here said.
The North said the "unidentified" man, who crossed the western sea border without authorization, did not respond sincerely to its verbal security checks aboard a floating material about 80 meters away.
Approaching the material, the North's troops shot two blanks, and he was seen as attempting to flee. They then fired more than 10 gunshots at the distance of 40-50 meters under the related rules of engagement for maritime border security, according to the North's account.
After shooting, they searched the floating material but only found plenty of blood, not his body, the North claimed.
They burned the material in accordance with the state emergency guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19, it added.
The North also said its leadership thinks "what should not happen has occurred" and instructed troops to establish a system to record the entire process of maritime border security activities so as not to trigger "minor mistakes or big misunderstandings" during such a crackdown.
The leadership repeatedly emphasized the need for taking necessary measures to prevent such a "regrettable" case from recurring so that inter-Korean "trust and relations of respect" won't fall apart, it added.
The North also expressed regret over the South Korean military's "unilateral" announcement related to the incident the previous day.
The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the previous day that the North had set his body on fire.
Meanwhile, Moon and Kim have recently exchanged personal letters, Suh added.
In their correspondence, the two touched on "expectations" for the recovery of Seoul-Pyongyang relations by overcoming the ongoing difficulties from the coronavirus outbreak, Suh who serves as Moon's top security aide, said.
Regarding the incident, Suh stated that the government will look at inter-Korean ties once again and make its best effort to establish the security of the Korean Peninsula and bilateral relations to meet the people's expectations.
Cheong Wa Dae made public the full text of the North's notice in a highly unusual move.
Unification Minister Lee In-young, Seoul's point man on Pyongyang, also noted that the North Korean leader's apology to South Korea is "very exceptional.
"To my knowledge, it's unprecedented for the North to issue (its leader's) position rapidly using the expression 'sorry' twice," Lee said during a National Assembly session.
The North has not yet formally apologized for the killing of a South Korean tourist to Mount Kumgang by its soldier in 2008. It instead expressed its "regret" in a statement issued by a state tourism agency.
In another rare move, Cheong Wa Dae unveiled the full texts of recent personal letters exchanged by Moon and Kim.
Kim expressed hope for the well-being of all South Koreans struggling to overcome difficulties from COVID-19 and recent typhoon damage in his letter to Moon, dated on Sept. 12, Suh told reporters.
It was a reply to Moon's letter to him sent on Sept. 8.
Kim said he thought about the "grave burden" that Moon is shouldering by himself and that he knows Moon's "difficulty, pressure and efforts" to overcome the troubles better than any other person.
"I once again eagerly wish that southern compatriots' precious health and happiness will be kept," Kim wrote. "I sincerely wish for everyone's well-being."
In his letter to Kim, Moon pointed out that both Koreas are going through "big predicaments," from the coronavirus to heavy monsoon rain and typhoon damage.
Moon expressed his appreciation for Kim's "strong commitment" to respecting the lives of people.
The president said the current situation is regrettable in that South and North Korea cannot help each other despite the challenges.
Suh said Cheong Wa Dae made public the full text of the letters at the instruction of Moon.
Cheong Wa Dae, however, stopped short of releasing photos of the letters.
Moon and Kim had their previous known correspondence in March.
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