North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apologised on Friday over the killing of a South Korea official near the rivals' disputed sea boundary, saying he's "very sorry" about the "unexpected" and "unfortunate" incident, South Korean officials said.
It's extremely unusual for a North Korean leader to apologise to rival South Korea on any issue.
Kim's apology was expected to ease anti-North sentiments in South Korea and mounting criticism of South Korean President Moon Jae-in over the man's death this week.
"Comrade Kim Jong Un, the State Affairs Commission chairman, feels very sorry to give big disappointment to President Moon Jae-in and South Korean citizens because an unexpected, unfortunate incident happened" at a time when South Korea grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, Moon adviser Suh Hoon cited the North Korean message as saying.
On Thursday, South Korea accused North Korea of fatally shooting one of its public servants who was likely trying to defect and burning his body after finding him on a floating object in North Korean waters earlier this week.
South Korean officials condemned North Korea for what they called an "atrocious act" and pressed it punish those responsible.
According to the North Korean message, North Korean troops first fired blanks after the man didn't fully explain why he was there, rather than saying he's from South Korea.
Then, he showed moves to flee, prompting the North Korean troops to fire 10 rounds. When the troops came near the man's floating object, they only found lots of blood on the floating object and the man wasn't seen.
The troops determined he was dead and burned the floating object in line with anti-coronavirus rules, according to the North Korean message read by Suh.
Senior South Korean military officer Ahn Young Ho told lawmaker Wednesday that North Korea fatally shot the official likely in line with elevated anti-coronavirus rules that involve "indiscriminate shooting" at anyone approaching its borders illegally.
Defense Minister Suh Wook said the official was believed to have tried to defect because he left his shoes on the ship and put on a life jacket and resorted to a floating object when he was found in North Korean waters.
Suh also cited an unidentified circumstantial evidence indicating the official's defection attempt. Some experts those weren't enough to conclude the official tried to defect.