|President Moon Jae-in applauds special warfare troops during a ceremony to mark the 72nd Armed Forces Day at the Special Warfare Command in Icheon, Friday. The anniversary falls on Oct. 1. / Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
A belated report on the killing of a South Korean by North Korean soldiers to President Moon Jae-in is placing him in an unexpected situation, similar to that faced by his disgraced predecessor Park Geun-hye after the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry, with the opposition side stepping up criticism of the President.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, Thursday, the 47-year-old South Korean official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries went missing while on duty aboard an inspection vessel in waters off the western border island of Yeonpyeong, Monday. The South Korean was found drifting in North Korean waters by a North Korean vessel at around 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, was shot dead at 9:40 p.m. and his body was burned at 10:10 p.m., according to the South Korean military and intelligence agency. They claimed the South Korean official may have tried to defect to the North.
Cheong Wa Dae said it received the report about the shooting at 10:30 p.m., Tuesday, and held a ministerial meeting at 1:30 a.m., Wednesday, in which the information's reliability was discussed by National Security Adviser Suh Hoon, Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min, National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won, Unification Minister Lee In-young and Defense Minister Suh Wook.
However, Moon did not participate in the meeting and they did not report the information to the President immediately after their meeting; Moon was briefed on the killing at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, meaning he learned about the killing about 10 hours later.
In addition, the meeting nearly coincided with Moon's pre-recorded address to the United Nations General Assembly that called for international support for the declaration of an end to the Korean War that has only ended in an armistice.
Although the South Korean authorities were aware of the killing on Tuesday night, the defense ministry only announced on Wednesday afternoon that an official had gone missing and seemed to have been found by North Koreans, without saying whether or not he was alive. It was at 11 a.m. on Thursday when the ministry officially made the killing public through a press briefing.
On Friday, the North gave a different account of the situation, detailing the finding of the official and the shooting, although it did not provide details on the timeline of the incident.
In response to the controversy over the reporting time to Moon, Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), said the incident is a national disaster due to the Moon administration's lackluster security awareness.
"The Moon administration's rosy prospects have led to the loss of a precious life of a South Korean citizen," he said.
"President Moon needs to explain what he did for three days from Monday."
He added that the government may have wanted to hide something from the public by disclosing the incident three days later.
The current situation leaves Moon in a similar situation to that faced by his predecessor in the wake of the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014. While the ferry carrying more than 300 passengers was sinking, the rescue operations were bungled, causing people to speculate on what then-President Park was doing for the first critical seven hours. Many still question the claims of presidential aides that she was receiving updates at her residence.
Rep. Joo Ho-young, the PPP floor leader, said President Moon should have attended the ministerial meeting on early Wednesday morning considering the severity of the incident.
"It is questionable about President Moon's follow-up measures. It is not comprehensible whether President Moon was unaware of the incident or he ignored it," Joo said.