It has been revealed that the South Korean military and maritime police did not use a single flare during their night search to find the body of a South Korean civilian killed by the North Korean troops. While dozens to hundreds of flares are typically dropped from airplanes or nearby islands during the night search to secure visibility, a single flare was not used for this search due to the proximity to the inter-Korean border. Moreover, the military and police are conducting the search in the waters eight or more kilometers away from the Northern Limit Line (NLL) due to the concerns about a collision with the North.
The search that has been continuing for two weeks since the South Korean civilian went missing on September 21 was not supposed to be this long according to the initial announcement made by the military. As North Korea said only a floating matter was burned and denied damaging the body unlike the South Korea military’s announcement that the North Korean troops burned the body, the search has been continuing even through the Chuseok holidays. However, the military has practically given up on night search and excluded the areas near the NLL, which makes one wonder if it indeed wants to find the body. Such a lackluster search operation seems to only reinforce North Korea’s claim that the body is floating somewhere in the ocean while diluting the South Korean military’s announcement on the burning of the body.
It still has not been confirmed whether the shooting of the civilian was ordered by a senior officer and whether the body was damaged. The opposition parties released the intelligence obtained by the South Korean military at the time, harshly criticizing its poor and delayed response. However, the government has kept its mouth shut, which is quite different from its hasty judgment that the civilian intended to defect to the North. The Ministry of National Defense also expressed its concerns and regrets on Monday saying that the sensitive intelligence is arbitrarily edited and indiscreetly released without mentioning whether the intelligence released by the opposition parties is true or not.
Such an attitude was already expected when the government said North Korea’s letter of explanation was unprecedented and positive. In the letter, the North unilaterally explained the details of the incident based on its own investigation and delivered Kim Jong Un’s apology, practically expressing its desire to close the case. Since then, North Korea has not responded at all to the South’s requests for a joint investigation, etc., other than making a threat that South Korea’s search operation violates North Korea’s territorial waters.
It remains unknown what discussions are taking place under the table between the two Koreas. However, it is doubtful that South Korea will be able to insist on a joint investigation given its carefulness to not provoke the North with search operation, which deserves all-out efforts. The Ministry of Unification’s Monday message to North Korea simply said it wishes for the North’s quick response. Given the circumstances, it seems possible that the recent killing of the South Korean civilian may become another permanently unresolved incident between the Two Koreas.