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(LEAD) Slain S. Korean official sought defection to North: Coast Guard

All News 15:09 September 29, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details from briefing in paras 8-9, 11; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- The Korea Coast Guard said Tuesday that the South Korean fisheries official shot to death by the North Korean military at sea last week was trying to defect to the North.

The Coast Guard reached the conclusion based on the intelligence retrieved from the military, the analysis of the tidal current on the day of the incident and other circumstantial evidence.

"The official was wearing a life jacket and hanging onto a floating object when he was spotted by the North," said Yoon Seong-hyun, chief of the investigation team, during a briefing to announce its midway investigation results.

"Also North Korea knew the official's personal details, such as his name, age and hometown."

Yoon Seong-hyun, chief of the investigation team of the Korea Coast Guard, talks during a briefing in Incheon on Sept. 29, 2020. (Yonhap)
A South Korean fishing boat leaves the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Sept. 26, 2020. A South Korean official was killed by North Korean soldiers in the North's waters near the de facto maritime border on Sept. 22. (Yonhap)

The team also analyzed the direction of the tidal current on Sept. 21 when he went missing and concluded that he couldn't have reached where he was found unless he swam to get there.

Yoon said an accident or a suicide was considered very unlikely, although the investigation team did not rule out such scenarios.

The team concluded that a pair of slippers found on the deck of the government ship monitoring fishing boats belonged to the 47-year-old official, which were sent to the National Forensic Service for more analysis.

It was not clear whether he wore a life jacket on the ship, but his co-worker testified that he did not put on one in the steering house. The official also talked to his son via his cell phone just before he started the night shift at midnight on Sept. 20, which became his last phone conversation.

The team also analyzed the ship's closed circuit TV footage, 731 clips in total, but could not find any important information about the man, who is believed to have gone missing between 2 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 21.

"Based on the investigation so far, we believe that he intended to defect to the North," Yoon said, adding that he "knew the waters around Yeonpyeong Island well," an island in the front-line areas near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto inter-Korean sea border, where the official went missing.

Yoon also said the dead official had debt worth around 330 million won (US$282,000), of which 268 million won came from online gambling, adding that his financial troubles were not a decisive factor in the coast guard's conclusion that he sought defection.

This photo, provided by the brother of a deceased fisheries official, shows the man's identification card left on the boat. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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