News / Asia

North Korea Returns South Korean 'Defectors'

Panmunjom, South Korea
Panmunjom, South Korea
Daniel Schearf
North Korea has returned six South Korean men whom it says were defectors. Political analysts say the gesture may be Pyongyang's attempt to thaw cold relations after it abruptly canceled reunions of families separated since the Korean War.

North Korean authorities returned six South Korean citizens Friday afternoon at the border “truce village” of Panmunjom.

South Korea's Unification Ministry says Pyongyang had detained the six men, between the ages of 27 and 67, for illegally entering North Korea.

North Korea's Red Cross announced Thursday they would be repatriated as a humanitarian gesture. Seoul welcomed the release though also noted it should have come sooner.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do says Pyongyang had ignored previous requests for information on the detainees and labeled them as “defectors.”

He says even though North Korea argues that they defected to North Korea, whether they did so voluntarily or not will be revealed by a thorough investigation.

North Korea's sudden repatriation of the men is a strange move from a country more known for isolating its own people and abducting others than returning willing defectors.

Since the end of fighting in the Korean War, North Korea forcibly held and kidnapped thousands, from prisoners of war to celebrities to ordinary fishermen.

Defections from the impoverished North to the wealthy South are fairly common with more than 25,000 since the end of fighting in the 1950s Korean War.

But defections from South to North are extremely rare. The return of South Korean defectors by Pyongyang is unheard of.

Yang Moo-jin, with the University of North Korean Studies, said Pyongyang may be trying to revive friendlier relations with Seoul.

He said this shows North Korea's intention to improve inter-Korean relations. It also contains a message, he said, to request the government of South Korean President Park Geun-hye to change its policy towards North Korea.

Relations between the two Koreas thawed this summer after tensions peaked with Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February.

North and South negotiated a re-opening of their joint factory zone in Kaesong and, for the first time in years, the reunion of families separated since the Korean War.

But, North Korea abruptly postponed the reunions, as well as talks on resuming South Korean tourism to Mount Kumgang, citing alleged hostility from Seoul.

A few of those freed Friday are believed to have crossed into North Korea in February 2010 when Pyongyang announced the detention of four South Koreans. Few details are known about the two other men.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, at the time, quoted an activist saying the four may have been a group that crossed the border on a mission to meet former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

It was not clear why they wanted to meet the father of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, or if they succeeded before he died in late 2011.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim could not confirm the details or identities of the men.

He said as soon as they enter South Korea, and they conduct an investigation, they can check whether the four people who North Korea mentioned in 2010 are included in the six people coming down today or not.

Rare South to North defections include one in September when border guards shot and killed a man trying to float across a river along the heavily armed border.

In 2009, a South Korean man wanted by police cut a hole in a fence on the border, known as the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and fled to the North. 

VOA Seoul Bureau producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs