The South Korean Mugunghwa 10 fisheries patrol vessel is seen anchored off the western border island of Yeonpyeong on September 25, 2020. (Photo by AFP)
North Korea says it is searching for a missing South Korean fisheries official allegedly shot dead by its soldiers, warning Seoul to keep its naval forces out of Northern waters.
North Koreaís KCNA state news agency reported on Sunday that Pyongyang was considering ways to hand over the official if he were found dead or alive.
However, it warned South Korea against mobilizing its naval forces under the pretext of launching a search operation, saying such moves in northern waters threatened to raise tensions between the two countries.
"We urge the south side to immediately halt the intrusion across the military demarcation line in the West Sea that may lead to escalation of tensions," KCNA reported.
South Korean news agency Yonhap said Seoul had scrambled 39 vessels, including 16 naval ships and six aircraft, to search for the official, who went missing on Monday near the Yellow Sea border island of Yeonpyeong.
On Thursday, the South accused North Korean troops of fatally shooting the missing official and burning his body near the sea border.
Seoul said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had already expressed regret over the "unfortunate incident."
South Koreaís Defense Ministry said that the Southís military forces were on high alert following the incident.
"Our military issued the instruction on Thursday that calls for the strengthening of the readiness posture regarding the current situation," the Ministryís deputy spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik told reporters on Friday.
"The focus is on closely monitoring North Korean military moves around the clock and to maintain a firm defense posture to swiftly react to all circumstances so as to prevent the escalation of tensions," the official added.
The two neighboring countries are technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.