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S. Korea to keep seeking dialogue with N. Korea over slain official: minister


Unification Minister Lee In-young said Friday that South Korea will keep seeking "dialogue" with North Korea to figure out exactly what happened to a South Korean official shot and killed by the North last month.

Lee made the remark during a parliamentary audit session in response to a lawmaker's question as to how the government will draw cooperation from the North on the deadly incident at a time when Pyongyang remains unresponsive to Seoul's calls for a joint probe.

"We will have to find a method to smoothly resolve the issue through dialogue," Lee said.

The 47-year-old official was fatally shot by the North Korean military on Sept. 22 while adrift in North Korean waters. South Korea earlier claimed that North Korean soldiers shot him dead and burned his body.

North Korea swiftly apologized for the incident but denied setting his body ablaze, claiming that what their soldiers burned was his belongings and that his body went missing.

South Korea has called for a joint investigation with the North into the incident, but Pyongyang has not responded. Seoul is trying to search for the missing body.

"It is something that we will never give up -- to retrieve his body and bring it back to his family," Lee said.

Lee still emphasized that humanitarian assistance to North Korea should be pursued regardless of any political, military and security situations, expressing concerns that the global coronavirus pandemic, summertime typhoons and flooding might be aggravating food shortages in the impoverished nation.

"Given COVID-19 and damage caused by flooding and typhoons, things could get tough when the spring comes around, he said. (We) are thinking about what we can do in terms of cooperation in the humanitarian area."

Though South Korea has sought to provide assistance to the North through international agencies, the North has rejected outside help and called for "self-reliance" in overcoming challenges.

With regard to coordinating with the United States on North Korea policy, Lee stressed the importance of maintaining "close cooperation" with Washington and "responding swiftly" to its new policies regardless of who wins the upcoming US presidential election.

He pointed out that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden may not necessarily return to former President Barack Obama's policy of "strategic patience" toward North Korea if he is elected as president.

"If Biden wins the election, there is a possibility the new administration will be a 'third Clinton term' instead of a 'third Obama term,'" he said.

Lee appears to be referring to former President Bill Clinton's policy of engaging North Korea as opposed to the Obama administration's approach of "strategic patience," which centered on waiting for Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table while keeping sanctions and pressure in place.

"We will stay prepared to respond to any situation no matter the results of the upcoming November elections," he added. (Yonhap)