In a rare public apology issued on Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his remorse over the killing of a South Korean maritime official who mysteriously went missing at sea this week.
Kim relayed his regret to South Korean counterpart President Moon Jae-in, saying that the incident "should not have happened" and that he was "very sorry" for disappointing President Moon and South Koreans.
Pyongyang officials also shared results of their investigation into the incident, saying that more than 10 shots were fired at the 47-year-old male victim "who had entered their waters" and tried to flee after failing to reveal his identity to North Korean soldiers on patrol.
North Korean soldiers approached the man after shooting him, but only found plenty of blood on the floating material, not his body, the North claimed.
The North also said that what they burned was not his body, but the floating material that was carrying him, in accordance with the state emergency guidelines for curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Seoul said that North Korean soldiers shot and then burned the body of the official.
Moon and Kim have exchanged letters within the past month, according to Suh Hoon, director of the national security office at the presidential office. The letter contained the expectations for the restoration of inter-Korean relations by overcoming the difficulties caused by the virus, he said.
The officer, believed to have been working for the South Korean Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, was last seen aboard a patrol boat with other officials on Monday, according to Seoul.
General Ahn Young-ho, who is in charge of operations for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, strongly condemned North Korea's "outrageous act" and demanded that those responsible be punished.
But the North also fired back at the South's statements regarding the incident, saying the North expresses its deep regret at the use of words such as "outrageous" without first listening to North Korea's explanation.
Tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula in recent months. This week's killing was the first by North Korean forces for a decade, provoking national outrage in the South. It comes months after the resignation of unification minister Kim Yeon-chul in June over rapidly deteriorating cross-border ties.