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N Korea at crossroads

Kim Jong Un issues rare apology over killing of South Korean

Seoul says engagement must continue despite brutal action

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea in this May 24 file photo.   © Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wrote to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to apologize for the shooting of a South Korean fisheries official in its waters on Tuesday.

The rare mea culpa was delivered in a letter to South Korea's presidential Blue House, according to Suh Hoon, director of the South's National Security Office.

"State Chairman Kim Jong Un said he is very sorry to President Moon Jae-in and the South Korean people for disappointing them as this unexpected and unfortunate event happened in its maritime territories," Suh quoted the North as saying.

Pyongyang said its soldiers fired 10 bullets at the man on Tuesday evening after he entered its territorial waters. But North Korea denied burning his body, saying it could not find him after the shooting.

While the letter may help to ease growing tensions between the two Koreas, Moon's attempts to foster peace are facing a domestic backlash. Many South Korean people are angry about the brutal killing, and news outlets used the occasion to criticize the government's policy of engagement.

But Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the government's engagement policy should continue despite the killing.

"Engaging with North Korea, a very closed and insular country, is very difficult and frustrating," Kang said in a virtual seminar hosted by the U.S.-based Asia Society, a nonprofit foundation, on the occasion of the 75th United Nations General Assembly. "It takes a lot of patience and undermines our readiness and goodwill, but I think in the end we need to stay the course of peaceful engagement."

The government employee went missing on Monday near Yeonpyeong Island, which lies close to the nautical border known as the Northern Limit Line.

In 2010, Yeonpyeong was the site of the first attack on South Korean soil since the end of the Korean War.

In March that year, 46 South Korean sailors died when a naval patrol ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. Eight months later, North Korea shelled the island, killing four South Koreans, including two civilians.

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