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Seoul expands search for missing official shot by N. Korean amid Pyongyang’s warnings against intrusion into its waters

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On Monday, South Korea expanded the search for the body of its official killed by North Korean troops at sea last week, and urged that a hotline with Pyongyang be restored to prevent such incidents.

At least six aircraft and 45 vessels are participating in the search for the body of the South’s fisheries official killed by the North’s military, including 36 ships from the coastguard and navy. Nine boats from the fisheries ministry and others in private ownership are also taking part.

The expansion of the search operations comes a day after Pyongyang accused Seoul of intruding into its territorial waters while searching for the body. North Korea said it was conducting its own search for the man’s remains, stressing that it was considering ways to hand them over to the South, if found.

On Sunday, officials in Seoul called on Pyongyang to agree to a joint investigation into the killing, and urged North Korea to restore the military hotline that had been used for communication. Pyongyang severed the hotline between the two countries in June, when relations deteriorated.

The North’s state media issued a statement on Sunday, complaining that South Korea’s naval operation had entered its territorial waters in the area, off the west coast of the peninsula. However, Lieutenant Lee Hong-chear of the South Korea Coastguard said the Northern Limit Line had not been crossed. “There have been differences in how the two Koreas mark the waters,” the military official admitted, referring to the disputed maritime demarcation that dates to the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The official who worked for South Korea’s fisheries department was killed by North Korean soldiers, and his body doused in fuel and set on fire near the sea border, the South’s Defense Ministry said last week. The burning of the corpse is believed to have been an anti-coronavirus measure, it added. The incident prompted an unusual move from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who apologized, saying the killing should not have happened.

As of Monday, the inter-Korean military communication line remains inoperative, the South’s defense ministry said. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for the North to resume dialogue and reconnect the channel to prevent such incidents from happening in the future. At a meeting with senior aides on Monday, he described the North Korean leader’s apology as “unprecedented, very rare and special.”

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