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(2nd LD) Defense ministry denies real-time eavesdropping of N. Korea's shoot-to-kill order

Politics 18:11 September 29, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead with ministry's stance; ADDS more details in paras 11-12)

SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry on Tuesday denied allegations that the military captured North Korea's order to kill a South Korean official in real time through wiretapping, saying it learned of the situation only later after analyzing intelligence.

Earlier, sources with access to the National Assembly's defense and intelligence committees said that 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 Wa 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 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.

But the defense ministry said there "was no mention of the word 'killing' at all in intelligence that we've secured from various sources," adding that it is "also not true that the military shared those accounts immediately with government agencies."

"Our military was able to learn of the related situation after comprehensively analyzing pieces of intelligence," the ministry said in a statement.

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)

As for whether North Korea burned the official's body, the main opposition floor leader said earlier in the day that the defense ministry has confirmed with the help of its special intelligence that North Korea made such an order after shooting him to death.

It 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.

"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.

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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