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(LEAD) Defense ministry reviewing possible provision of intelligence on slain official to U.N.

All News 17:40 October 26, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more remarks, details in last 5 paras, photo)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is considering providing the United Nations with military intelligence collected in the course of North Korea's killing of one of its citizens if the U.N. launches an investigation, Defense Minister Suh Wook said Monday.

On Sept. 22, North Korea fatally shot the 47-year-old official, who was adrift in its side of the Yellow Sea, and burned his body, according to the South Korean military. He went missing the previous day while on duty near the western border island of Yeonpyeong.

The authorities also said that the official was presumed to have sought to defect to the North, citing military intelligence. The Coast Guard also made an interim conclusion earlier this month that he sought the defection after losing money in gambling.

North Korea acknowledged the shooting but claimed it only burned a "floating material" he used, not his body. The bereaved family has also challenged the claim of his attempt to defect and has been appealing to the U.N. for a fresh investigation.

The file photo taken Oct. 6, 2020, shows Lee Rae-jin, the elder brother of a South Korean official killed by North Korean soldiers while drifting in its waters, holding a petition at the U.N. office on North Korea's human rights in Seoul to appeal to the United Nations that a "fair and objective" probe into the killing be conducted. (Yonhap)

"If the U.N. carries out an investigation, we will present the facts that we have," Suh said during a parliamentary audit of the ministry, stressing that the military stuck with its earlier assessment.

"We judge the incident based upon primary sources, and a legal review is under way on providing those sources," he said in an answer to Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party who pointed out that there exists no smoking gun to back such judgment.

Last week, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights situation, raised the tragic incident during a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and denounced the killing as a violation of international human rights law.

The minister said he is aware that the incident was reported to the U.N. and that his ministry has not yet received any official request for the submission of related information.

Suh also said that the ministry is reviewing if there is any information it can provide to the family regarding the incident.

Earlier this month, Lee Rae-jin, the elder brother of the deceased official, asked for the audio file of a wiretapped conversation between his brother and North Korean troops before the killing, as well as video clips recorded by the South Korean military's surveillance equipment that show the North's burning of his body.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ahn Gyu-back of the ruling Democratic Party said during the audit that the Coast Guard reported multiple times via international communication channels on the first day of his disappearance that search operations were under way.

"Those messages were not directed at North Korea, but I believe that the North would also have listened to them at that time," Suh said.

Critics have said that the authorities failed to take appropriate actions to prevent his death, such as letting North Korea know the official had gone missing and seeking its help for search operations.

The military and the Coast Guard continue to search for the body of a South Korean fisheries official, who was shot to death by North Korean troops last month, in waters off the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Oct. 3, 2020, in this photo provided by the Coast Guard. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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