September 25, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered a rare apology following the killing of a South Korean official.

Kim in a message to South Korea on Friday said he's "deeply sorry that an unexpected and unfortunate thing has happened in our territorial waters" after a government official from South Korea was killed at sea by North Korean troops earlier this week, The New York Times reports.

The official, South Korea said, was apparently "trying to defect to North Korea" and "was killed by troops in the North who set his body on fire for fear he might be carrying the coronavirus," the Times previously wrote. It was the "first time ​that North Korea has killed a South Korean citizen in its territory since 2008," the Times added, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the official's killing a "stunning and deeply regrettable act that cannot be tolerated."

North Korea in its message on Friday reportedly denied that troops burned the body of the official, who they called an "illegal intruder," but did say they burned his flotation device "according to our epidemiological regulations."

Institute for National Security Strategy researcher Byun Sang-Jung explained to ABC News that it's "extremely unusual for North Korea to issue a statement of regret so fast," and in fact, according to the Times, this was the first apology to the South issued in Kim's name during his time as North Korean leader. Ewha Womans University international studies professor Leif-Eric Easley told the Times this apology was a "low-cost way of managing a potential crisis situation," adding that it "may also mitigate the deepening of North Korea's pariah status in South Korean public opinion." Brendan Morrow

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