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South Korea says North Korea killed its citizen, burned body

[SEOUL] A South Korean government employee who went missing near a heavily patrolled nautical border was fatally shot by North Korean military personnel, marring the latest bid for peace from President Moon Jae-in.

In what appears to be the first killing of a South Korean civilian by its neighbor's military in about a decade, North Korean personnel shot the 47-year-old man who worked for South Korea's fisheries ministry and burned his body, the South Korean Defence Ministry said Thursday.

The man went missing Monday from his boat near Yeonpyeong Island, about 10 kilometers south of the nautical border known as Northern Limit Line, it said. He was apparently trying to defect but was treated harshly by the North Koreans because they believed he could have been a carrier of the coronavirus, Yonhap News Agency cited a South Korean military official as saying.

A crew member of North Korean vessel questioned the South Korean about a day after he went missing and North Korea's military later shot him. His body was doused with oil and set ablaze, Yonhap reported.

North Korea took strong action in July after a man was suspected of sneaking in from South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime locked down the border city of Kaesong on concern he may have been carrying the virus, It investigated the military unit responsible for patrols and pledged to "administer a severe punishment," to those responsible, its official media said. North Korea has boasted it has no confirmed virus cases - a claim doubted by US and Japanese officials.

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South Korea's presidential office criticised Pyongyang over the shooting, saying it was a violation of international norms. The incident also helped push the benchmark Kospi Index to its biggest percentage decline in about a month.

"North Korea must apologise for its anti-humanitarian behavior," Suh Choo-suk, first vice chief of the National Security Office, told reporters. The South Korean government will take all necessary measures to strengthen the security of inter-Korean borders, including the maritime border, Mr Suh added.

The shooting likely took place around the same day Mr Moon urged world leaders at a speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week to bring the 70-year-old Korean War to a formal end, in his latest attempt to resuscitate stalled nuclear talks between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Mr Moon's rapprochement with North Korea was tested in June when Pyongyang blew up a US$15 million liaison office South Korea built two years ago to serve as a de facto embassy for the countries, who have no formal diplomatic ties.

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