North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology on Friday over the killing of a South Korean official who was apparently trying to defect near the rivals' disputed sea boundary.
"Comrade Chairman Kim Jong Un asked to convey the message that he is very sorry about creating a huge disappointment to our southern compatriots and President Moon Jae-In because of this unfortunate incident that happened in our waters," a letter sent to South Korea's presidential Blue House said.
It was sent by the Unification Division, the North Korean body in charge of relations with its southern neighbor.
It is extremely unusual for a North Korean leader to apologize on any issue.
But it came after South Korea's Defense Ministry said Thursday that the North had shot and burned the body of a South Korean official who disappeared from a government boat earlier in the week.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the incident "shocking" and "very regretful," as it fueled anti-North sentiment and sparked a public backlash.
The North Korean letter admitted that after initially firing blanks its military had shot "some ten rounds" of gunfire into the unidentified "intruder," as he did not reveal his identity and appeared to flee.
It added that for safety reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, they had burnt the floating device he washed up on and did not find his body.
Ahead of a military parade in which he may unveil his latest weaponry, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered an 80-day national campaign to boost the ailing economy.
Kim made his demand at a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Monday amid a tough year for the Hermit Kingdom as the COVID-19 pandemic puts more pressure on an economy battered by recent storms.
“We have performed historical feats with our costly efforts, boldly overcoming unprecedentedly grave trials and difficulties this year, but we should not rest on our laurels,” he said, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
“We still face the challenges that cannot be overlooked and there are many goals we have to attain within this year,” the despot said.
In August, Kim announced that the ruling party will hold a congress in January to lay out a new five-year plan.
That's according to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who in an address to a ruling party meeting made a frank admission — that the country's policies in the past five years had ended in abject failure.
"Almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives," Kim told thousands of delegates to the Workers' Party's 8th Congress who were seated in a huge auditorium in Pyongyang.
The country should digest the "bitter lessons" of failure, Kim added, and "be bold enough to recognize the mistakes, which, if left unaddressed, will grow into bigger obstacles."
The congress is the first since 2016 and should produce a new economic blueprint for the next five years by the time it wraps up in the next few days.
Many veteran North Korea watchers believe the country is facing its worst economic crisis since the mid-1990s, when the loss of support from the defunct Soviet Union, compounded by Pyongyang's own mismanagement, led to a famine that killed, by some estimates, more than a million people.
Kim had admitted last August to "shortcomings," which led to a failure to meet the country's development goals and improve people's living standards. In November, he criticized economic officials for their mishandling of the economy.
International sanctions and back-to-back natural disasters over the past year have taken a toll on the economy. Anti-coronavirus measures have also weighed heavily, although no one in attendance at the party congress wore a mask. Officially, the government claims not to have a single case of COVID-19.
In his speech, Kim offered few new prescriptions for resolving the crisis, except to continue "consolidating our own strength." Nor did he offer any hints of how he plans to deal with the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden, or respond to South Korean President Moon Jae-in's attempts at engagement.
Biden has signaled that he intends to shore up the U.S. alliance with Seoul and avoid the high-stakes summitry with Kim preferred by Trump. For that reason, says Park Hyeong-jung, a veteran Pyongyang watcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government think tank in Seoul, Kim is likely to look elsewhere for support.
Former President Trump made an unprecedented offer to North Korea's Kim Jong Un after the pair met in 2019 for their second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam: a ride home on Air Force One, which Kim declined, according to a top former U.S. official.
Matthew Pottinger, a former deputy national security adviser who specialized in Asia policy, told the BBC that Trump made the offer after negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program ended at the February 2019 gathering with no significant progress.
"President Trump offered Kim a lift home on Air Force One. The president knew that Kim had arrived on a multi-day train ride through China into Hanoi and the president said: 'I can get you home in two hours if you want.' Kim declined," Pottinger told the news agency.
The offer, never before reported, constitutes the first time a North Korean leader or top official has been invited on the president's aircraft.
Other former Trump administration officials detailed the unprecedented casualness of the conversations between Trump and Kim at the Hanoi summit and a previous summit in Singapore.
"Trump thought he had a new best friend," former national security adviser John Bolton told the BBC.
The former president's summits with Kim and his visit to the Demilitarized Zone were seen at the time as the first real conversations between the U.S. and North Korea but ultimately failed to spur any significant changes to U.S.-North Korean relations or the status of North Korea's missile program.
The Daily NK, an online publication in Seoul with sources in North Korea, reported that three teenagers had been sent to a re-education camp for cutting their hair like K-pop idols and hemming their trousers above their ankles. The BBC cannot verify this account.
All this is because Mr Kim is in a war that does not involve nuclear weapons or missiles.
Analysts say he is trying to stop outside information reaching the people of North Korea as life in the country becomes increasingly difficult.
Millions of people are thought to be going hungry. Mr Kim wants to ensure they are still being fed the state's carefully crafted propaganda, rather than gaining glimpses of life according to glitzy K-dramas set south of the border in Seoul, one of Asia's richest cities.
The country has been more cut off from the outside world than ever before after sealing its border last year in response to the pandemic. Vital supplies and trade from neighbouring China almost ground to a halt. Although some supplies are beginning to get through, imports are still limited.
This self imposed isolation has exacerbated an already failing economy where money is funnelled into the regime's nuclear ambitions. Earlier this year Mr Kim himself admitted that his people were facing "the worst-ever situation which we have to overcome".
What does the law say? The Daily NK was the first to get hold of a copy of the law.
"It states that if a worker is caught, the head of the factory can be punished, and if a child is problematic, parents can also be punished. The system of mutual monitoring encouraged by the North Korean regime is aggressively reflected in this law," Editor-in-Chief Lee Sang Yong told the BBC.
He says this is intended to "shatter" any dreams or fascination the younger generation may have about the South.
"In other words, the regime concluded that a sense of resistance could form if cultures from other countries were introduced," he said.
Choi Jong-hoon, one of the few defectors to make it out of the country in the last year, told the BBC that "the harder the times, the harsher the regulations, laws, punishments become".
"Psychologically, when your belly is full and you watch a South Korean film, it might be for leisure. But when there's no food and it's a struggle to live, people get disgruntled."
Will it work? Previous crackdowns only demonstrated how resourceful people have been in circulating and watching foreign films which are usually smuggled over the border from China.
For a number of years, dramas have been passed around on USB sticks which are now as "common as rocks", according to Mr Choi. They're easy to conceal and they're also password encrypted.
"If you type in the wrong password three times in a row, the USB deletes its contents. You can even set it so this happens after one incorrect input of the password if the content is extra sensitive.