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LKP says Blue House behind boat cover-up

Na Kyung-won says official guided Defense Ministry's briefing
June 22,2019
The main opposition party said Friday that the Blue House masterminded a series of attempts by the Ministry of National Defense to lie about its failure to detect a boat that crossed over from North Korea.

“The Moon Jae-in administration’s lies and inability to defend national security are unacceptable,” Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn of the Liberty Korea Party said Friday. Hwang accused the Blue House of guiding the Defense Ministry to cover up the breach of the maritime border security last week.

The military announced Monday that a North Korean boat carrying four people was discovered on June 15 while adrift due to engine failure near Samcheok Harbor, Gangwon. It was later revealed that the boat actually crossed the eastern Northern Limit Line, the inter-Korean maritime border, on June 12 and freely sailed in South Korean territorial waters for nearly 58 hours until it moored in the harbor.

It was also revealed that one of the crew had made it to land and asked a passerby at the harbor to borrow a mobile phone. The government became aware of the arrival of the North Koreans only after a resident called the police. After being questioned, two of the North Koreans were sent back to the North through Panmunjom on Tuesday. The other two defected to the South.

Rep. Na Kyung-won, the LKP’s National Assembly floor leader, also said the Blue House must have orchestrated the cover-up because the Coast Guard’s initial report on June 15 to other authorities, including the Blue House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contained accurate and specific information, but the military’s subsequent briefings contained lies.

She also said an official of the Blue House secretly attended the Defense Ministry’s press briefings on Monday and Wednesday, suggesting that the presidential office was making sure that the ministry lied.

According to a situation report by the Coast Guard that LKP Rep. Kim Jung-jae obtained on Thursday, the Coast Guards gave detailed information on the situation to other government offices including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy, Blue House and National Intelligence Service (NIS).

The Donghae Branch of the Coast Guard, who initially responded, sent the first report to the Korea Cost Guard and the NIS at 6:45 a.m. on June 15. It said a North Korean boat was moored at Samcheok Harbor. At 7:09 a.m., the Coast Guard sent a more complete report to the Blue House’s State Affairs Planning and Monitoring Office and National Security Office, Prime Minister’s Office, Unification Ministry, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Navy.

The updated report accurately conveyed all key information.

“We received a report that a fishing boat carrying four people entered Samcheok Harbor’s breakwater, and the person who made the initial call said the crew told him they were from North Korea,” it said. “The ship left Kyongsong, North Hamkyong, for fishing operation on June 5 and went adrift around June 10 due to an engine malfunction. Around June 14, the engine was fixed and the boat entered Samcheok Harbor.”

Within 19 minutes from the initial discovery, the Coast Guard sent all key information to the military and the government, and further reports with additional details followed for the next three hours. The military made an announcement on Monday that the North Korean boat was discovered near Samcheok Harbor and towed to shore by a Coast Guard vessel. It also withheld details and insisted that there was no breach in its border security operations.

The military also said the boat did not have a GPS device, but the Coast Guard’s report showed that the ship had a GPS and one communication device. It was also revealed that an incumbent Navy captain who was assigned to work at the Blue House’s National Security Office attended the Defense Ministry’s press briefing on Monday. He also attended another briefing on Wednesday.

Choi Hyun-soo, a spokeswoman of the Defense Ministry, admitted that the ministry told the Blue House in advance about its briefing plan.

Yoon Do-han, senior presidential secretary for public communication, denied Friday that the Blue House coached the Defense Ministry what to say and what not to say. “The Blue House and the Defense Ministry consult on all national security matters,” he said. “The National Security Office of the Blue House knew in general how the ministry will give the briefing.”

He admitted that the Blue House official was at the Defense Ministry briefings, but said he was not there to influence the announcement.

“He was there only to assess public opinion on media reports,” Yoon said. “He did not coordinate anything with the ministry officials.”

Rep. Na of the LKP, however, said Friday that the National Assembly must conduct an investigation into the entire event.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]