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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid