July 3 (UPI) -- President Moon Jae-in said the government owes the families of South Korean sailors a belated apology for the deaths of their sons during a 2002 naval clash with North Korean forces at the maritime border.
Moon, who has remained the driving force behind inter-Korea engagement and met again with Kim Jong Un after U.S. President Donald Trump initially canceled the summit with the North Korea leader, addressed the need for reparations for South Koreans guarding the front lines, News 1 reported.
Moon's message is a signal to the public that victims of past skirmishes with Pyongyang have not been forgotten.
During a meeting of his Cabinet on Tuesday, Moon told Defense Minister Song Young-moo to send his apology to the families and the government will remain "wholly responsible" for the affair, presidential Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.
On Tuesday the Cabinet adopted an ordinance that will allow for the distribution of compensation from the state, in accordance with military compensation law.
Under previous administrations, collection drives were used to compensate the families of the fallen sailors, but other forms of honor were not bestowed upon them, Moon said.
In September, Moon met with the families of the sailors and vowed to bring them honor and respect.
In a separate statement to the public, Moon said North and South should promote the 100th anniversary of the March First movement, a 1919 uprising against Japanese colonial rule that ended in a crackdown and the deaths of thousands of protesting Koreans.
Moon said the two Koreas could be brought closer together if they celebrate the history of the independence movement, local newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Tuesday.
Moon said observing the anniversary in 2019 was discussed at Panmunjom with Kim and is included in the Panmunjom Declaration.
The South Korean president has said a Korean provisional government-in-exile should be considered the foundational beginnings of the country, and not the 1948 election of South Korean President Syngman Rhee, two years before the start of the 1950-53 Korean War.