South Korea repatriates 6 fishermen from North

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South Korea repatriates 6 fishermen from North

Local authorities on Wednesday morning repatriated six North Korean fishermen who drifted into South Korea’s East Sea in two broken boats last week, sending them back across the Northern Limit Line that separates the two Koreas.

An official at South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korea relations, said Pyongyang did not respond to any of Seoul’s numerous calls Tuesday.

North Korea cut off direct communication with the South in February 2016 after Seoul’s decision to suspend operation of the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test that January and a subsequent long-range ballistic missile launch.

But it appeared North Korea still tried to keep informed about the repatriation, local officials said Wednesday. When the South announced its plan to send the sailors home via loudspeakers in the truce village of Panmunjom Tuesday, several North Korean officials were spotted from across the border recording the message with a camcorder.

“President Moon Jae-in has continuously stressed the need to improve inter-Korea relations,” a South Korean government official said. “Restoring communication channels is a must because the status quo helps nobody, and obviously, both the South and the North have cables to send each other.”

The six sailors were repatriated after expressing their desire to go home. Seoul usually allows North Koreans to stay if they successfully pass an interrogation process and seek asylum.

The North Koreans boarded one of the two boats they brought in after it was repaired and crossed the Northern Limit Line Wednesday under the guidance of the local Coast Guard. The second boat had capsized by the time the Coast Guard arrived on the scene last Saturday.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, KIM ROK-HAN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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