South Korean official killed and burnt by North Korean troops

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A South Korean official has been shot dead and burned by North Korean troops, the South’s defence ministry said, condemning the “brutal act”.

Seoul said the man had disappeared from a patrol boat near the border and was later found in the North’s waters.

North Korean soldiers shot him, then poured oil over his body and set it alight, the ministry said. It had come to this conclusion based on its analysis of “diverse intelligence”.

North Korea has tightened its borders and is thought to have a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country.

The official, working for the fisheries department, was on his patrol boat about 10km (6 miles) from the border with the North, near the island of Yeonpyeong, when he disappeared on Monday, the South Korean defence ministry said.

The 47-year-old father of two had left his shoes behind on the boat. It is believed he had been trying to defect.

A North Korean patrol boat found the man, who was wearing a life jacket, at sea at around 15:30 local time on Tuesday, Seoul added.

They put gas masks on and questioned him from a distance before “orders from [a] superior authority” came in that the man be killed. He was shot dead in the water.

North Korean troops then burned the corpse while at sea, South Korean defence ministry officials said, adding that they believed this might have been an anti-coronavirus measure.

South Korea said it “strongly condemned such a brutal act and strongly urged the North to provide an explanation and punish those responsible.”

North Korean officials may be doing everything they can to ensure the country remains unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, the BBC Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker reports.

Authorities are thought to be preparing for a huge military parade on 10 October to mark the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the ruling Workers’ Party.

“This parade is a huge potential virus risk,” Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, a North Korea specialized news service, said on Twitter. “It seems paranoia about that risk is at play with shoot-to-kill rules.”

Pyongyang closed its border with China in January to try to prevent contamination. In July, North Korean state media said the country had raised its state of emergency to the maximum level.

The commander of the US military’s forces in South Korea, Robert Abrams, said last month that the North had introduced a new “buffer zone” of one to two kilometres on the Chinese border, and that the country had special operation forces in place with orders to “shoot-to-kill” anyone coming across the border.

At a news conference on Thursday, South Korea’s defence ministry officials said they had done a “thorough analysis of diverse intelligence”, but it was not clear how exactly they had gathered the information.

The military hotline between North and South was cut in June, and the inter-Korean liaison office, which was built to help both sides communicate, was destroyed by North Korea. But according to news agency AFP, South Korean military is known to intercept the North’s radio communications.

The incident would be the second time North Korean troops have shot and killed a South Korean civilian. A tourist from the South was shot by a soldier at Mount Kumgang in July 2008.

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