|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un / Korea Times file|
By Kang Seung-woo
North Korea's unexpected apology over its killing of a South Korean civil servant earlier this week shows the totalitarian state does not want the issue to interfere with inter-Korean reconciliation, according to Pyongyang watchers, Friday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has apologized to the South Korean people for the death of the South Korean official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, leaving experts scrambling to analyze the rare acknowledgement and apology.
According to Cheong Wa Dae, Friday, the North conveyed Kim's message that he feels "very sorry" for greatly "disappointing" President Moon Jae-in and other South Koreans with the "unsavory" case in his country's waters.
The presidential office added that the North was informing the South of the results of its own probe into what happened, in the notice sent by the United Front Department, the North's ruling Workers' Party organ handling inter-Korean relations.
"I think the message is intended to prevent the incident from developing into a more serious matter between the two Koreas," said Kim Jung, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
"Basically, the North seems to hope the shooting incident would not emerge as a serious problem between the two sides."
However, it remains to be seen whether Kim's apology will help save Moon's peace initiative to engage with the North.
"The notice does not mean that the North Korean regime will engage with the South Korean government," said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
"Amid growing criticism of the killing and burning of his body, the North Korean leadership issued the apology to avoid international criticism in terms of a humanitarian perspective. We need to watch whether the North will respond to the peace process."
Some experts also said the two Koreas need to come up with measures to prevent similar cases from recurring, as North Korea mentioned in the notice.
"It is also a matter of the Sept. 19 military agreement," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University. The agreement, signed by the leaders of the two Koreas during their third summit in 2018, calls for halting all hostile acts against each other to reduce tension along the border.
"(With the killing) the North virtually violated the agreement. It should make a clear stance over it and the two Koreas have to take action to restore the military agreement," Park said.
Cheong Wa Dae also said Moon and Kim exchanged letters, in which they showed expectations for improvements in inter-Korean relations when the COVID-19 pandemic and other difficulties are overcome.
Moon sent a letter on Sept. 8 to express his hope for North Korea to overcome damage from the floods and typhoons. Kim responded on Sept. 12, and also consoled Moon for the disaster damage in South Korea and expressed his wishes for good days again as soon as possible.