North bars return of 27 fishermen

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North bars return of 27 fishermen

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Two of the 27 North Koreans who were scheduled to be returned yesterday to North Korea walk back to a chartered bus yesterday at a resting area at Imjin Pavillion near the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom. By Kang Jung-hyun


The 27 North Koreans who were to be returned to North Korea yesterday did not make it across the border because Pyongyang refused to accept the group.

The North Koreans were part of a crew of 31 North Koreans found drifting on a wooden fishing boat in the Yellow Sea south of the inter-Korean maritime border on Feb. 5 by the South Korean military. The South Korean government said on Thursday that four of the 31 had decided to defect.

A North Korean communications officer in a phone call barred the entry of the 27 yesterday at 6 p.m., saying that “all 31 be returned from whence they came from in the boat they were in.” North Korea threatened that there would be “heavy consequences” if South Korea did not comply. The 27 returned to their accommodations after the phone call, and the Ministry of Unification said they would continue negotiating with the North on Monday.

The 27 had waited at the truce village of Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border since 11 a.m. yesterday when the South Korean government informed the North they would be sending the group over. After the Ministry of Unification announced on Thursday that four of the 31 North Koreans had decided to defect, North Korea sent an angry statement later that night insisting that Seoul was keeping the four against their will.

The statement issued by a spokesperson of North Korea’s Red Cross said that “the puppet group had informed that they would not return the four,” referring to the South Korean government, “after dragging 31 of our people to the South after they were found drifting and detaining them for a month.” Pyongyang had sent a statement to Seoul shortly after the group had crossed over, insisting that the South send over the entire group as soon as possible.

The South Koreans made it clear on Thursday that the four North Koreans - two men and two women - who had decided to stay in the South had done so on their own accord. At the National Assembly yesterday, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek denied accusations that the government had influenced the four to defect. “The government made its decision based on the four’s free will,” said Hyun, who added that he did not believe the issue was either a provocation or an immoral act. The minister also said the group’s detention had taken time because of the number of people who had to be questioned.

According to the South Korean government, the North Koreans discovered near Yeonpyeong Island in February had mistakenly crossed the border due to fog while catching clams. Weather conditions had prevented the boat from going its set course, and most of the North Koreans on the boat were from the region of Haeju, South Hwanghae Province.

The four who have decided to remain are Ok, 38, captain of the ship; Hong, 44, unemployed; Park, 22, laborer; and Bong, 21, nurse. Ok and Hong are men. The four will undergo additional questioning before being moved to Hanawon to learn to adjust to South Korean society.

Their education at the Hanawon facility, which ranges from putting on makeup to using credit cards, will last three months after which they will be released into the country as South Korean citizens.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

Related Korean Article[연합]
북한 주민 27명 판문점 송환 무산
北, '전원송환' 요구 전화통지..내주 협의재개

정부는 지난달 5일 남하한 북한 주민 31명 가운데 귀환 의사를 밝힌 27명을 4일 판문점을 통해 돌려보내려 했으나 북측의 거부로 인해 무산됐다고 이날 밝혔다.

통일부 당국자는 "오늘 오후 6시께 판문점 북측 연락관이 전화를 걸어 주민 31명 전원을 무조건 돌려보낼 것을 요구하는 구두 통지를 전달했다"면서 "이에따라 대기하던 북한 주민 27명은 숙소로 돌아갔다"고 말했다.

통일부에 따르면 북측은 "주민 31명 전원을 배와 함께 (이들이) 나갔던 해상경로를 통해 돌려보내야 할 것"이라며 "남측이 우리의 정당한 요구를 받아들이지 않을 경우 남북관계에 엄청난 후과를 미치게 될 것이며 그 책임은 전적으로 남측 당국이 지게 될 것이다"라고 주장했다.

북측은 또 "남측은 우리 주민 전원 송환 문제가 인도주의 문제인 동시에 남북관계와 관련한 중대한 문제라는 점을 똑똑히 인식하고 이제라도 즉시 주민 전원과 배를 표류됐던 해상경로를 통해 무조건 돌려보내야 할 것"이라고 요구했다.


통일부 당국자는 "우리로서는 27명이 북한으로 돌아가길 희망하고 있고 이들을 계속 보호하기보다는 빨리 돌려보내는 게 합당하다는 입장"이라고 밝혔다.

그는 이어 "주말 동안은 판문점 연락업무 수행이 어렵기 때문에 다음주 월요일(7일)에 송환에 필요한 협의를 하게 될 것"이라며 "어떠한 방식으로 할지는 결정된 게 없다"고 말했다.

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