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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs