North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector and set his body on fire for fear he might be carrying Covid-19, Seoul Military officials said on Thursday, BBC reported. Seoul said it had come to this conclusion based on its analysis of “diverse intelligence”.

The South Korean government said the man, who was working for the fisheries department, was on his patrol boat about 10-km from the border with North Korea, near the island of Yeonpyeong, when he disappeared on Monday.

He was killed around six hours after being found, a South Korean military official told AFP. “He was shot dead in the water,” he said. “North Korean soldiers poured oil over his body and burnt it in the water. We assess it was carried out under the North’s anti-coronavirus measure.”

The official added that the man was wearing a life jacket and his shoes were found on board the South Korean boat, facts that authorities said suggest he entered the water voluntarily. “We have obtained intelligence that he had expressed his intention to defect while being questioned,” he added. However, the official denied to provide the source of this information.

South Korea said it strongly condemned such an “outrageous act” and urged the North to provide an explanation and punish those responsible. “We sternly warn North Korea that all responsibilities for this incident lie with it,” the country’s defence ministry said in a statement. Pyongyang has not commented on the matter so far.

North Korea has tightened its borders and is thought to have a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place to prevent Covid-19 contamination in the country. North Korea has so far not confirmed any cases of the virus, which has affected almost every country in the world. It had, however, imposed a lockdown in Kaesong city in June, claiming that the country’s first suspected case of the coronavirus had been reported there.