Police in Seoul have detained more than a dozen South Korean activists returning from a week-long trip to communist North Korea. The group could face charges of violating South Korea's anti-Communist law.
The 311-member delegation of South Korean civic, religious and labor activists arrived back in Seoul Tuesday amid heavy airport security.
Several security agents quickly hustled off 16 members of the delegation for questioning. Thousands of police in riot gear surrounded the terminal at Kimpo Airport to prevent a clash between the delegation's sympathizers and protesters vehemently opposed to the group's Pyongyang visit.
The protesters called the travelers "traitors" for attending North Korean events commemorating Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.
The South Korean government says the detainees face possible prosecution for joining a rally at a Stalinist monument meant to promote the communist reunification policy of North Korea's late founder, Kim Il-Sung. South Korea has stringent security laws that prohibit its citizens from engaging in what it sees as pro-communist activities.
South Korea has stringent security laws that prohibit its citizens from engaging in what it sees as pro-communist activities.
Professor Byong Moo-huang at Korea National Defense University in Seoul says the activists appear to have broken their promise to the South Korean government.
"Our government allowed the group to go to Pyongyang under a couple of conditions. The first condition is, don't attend the ceremony in front of the monument. Don't agree with the North Korean reunification policy. But some violated our government's preconditions. That's why they are being investigated," he said.
The case is likely to be a further setback for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who has been trying to promote warmer ties with North Korea under his so-called "sunshine" engagement policy.
Inter-Korean relations flourished last year after the first-ever summit between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. The South Korean leader even won the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to engage the North. But progress has stalled in recent months.
The two Korea's remain technically at war under a 1953 armed truce.