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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid