SEOUL, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Kim Jong Un apologized for the killing of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean soldiers earlier this week, saying he was "very sorry" in a formal notice sent to Seoul, the president's office announced Friday.
The North Korean leader "feels very sorry that...an unexpected and unfortunate incident happened in our waters, which brought great disappointment to President Moon Jae-in and South Koreans," the message said, according to Suh Hoon, director of national security at the presidential Blue House, who relayed its contents at a press briefing.
The notice was attributed to the United Front Department of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, which is responsible for inter-Korean affairs. It came in response to an official demand for an explanation about the incident by the South, Suh said.
South Korea's military announced Thursday that North Korea fatally shot a fisheries official and burned his body after the civilian had gone missing earlier in the week from an inspection boat patrolling waters near the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas.
The defense ministry quickly condemned the "brutal" act and Moon said the military would be on heightened alert after the "shocking" and "unacceptable" killing.
Defense officials said Thursday that they believe the 47-year-old man had been attempting to defect to North Korea and that he was set on fire after being shot as a COVID-19 prevention measure.
North Korea conducted its own investigation into the case, its notice said, and claimed that its soldiers did not burn the fisheries official's body but rather the material that he had been floating on.
According to the message, North Korean soldiers responded to a report of an unidentified man floating in their waters. The soldiers approached and asked for identification from a distance but the man did not fully respond, only saying that was from the South, after which they fired blank rounds.
The man then appeared to start fleeing and the soldiers "fired at the illegal intruder with 10 bullets in accordance with the code of conduct of maritime security regulations," the notice said.
The soldiers approached but did not see the body on the floating object, which they burned as an anti-coronavirus measure.
"We would like to express our regret for the incident that occurred in our waters," the message said, while also criticizing the South's "one-sided presumption" on what happened.
"Our leadership repeatedly emphasized the need to be more vigilant and take necessary safety measures so that the relationship of trust and respect between North and South Korea, which has been built up in recent years, will not be destroyed by such a regrettable incident," the notice said.
The incident marked the first time a South Korean civilian was killed in North Korea since 2008, when a 53-year-old tourist was fatally shot at the North's Mount Kumgang resort area by soldiers after she wandered into a restricted area.
The apology is a rare show of contrition from North Korea, which cut off all official communications lines and blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong in June after a spat over defectors sending information leaflets across the border on balloons.
At his press briefing on Friday, Suh said Moon and Kim exchanged personal letters earlier this month in which they shared messages of support over the challenges posed by the coronavirus and a series of typhoons that battered the Korean Peninsula.
After reviewing the notice, "the government will look over inter-Korean relations once again and will do its best to create a situation on the Korean Peninsula that will meet the expectations of the people," Suh said.