North Koreans repatriated for 16 alleged murders

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North Koreans repatriated for 16 alleged murders

The South Korean government repatriated two North Koreans who fled south after murdering 16 fellow sailors on a squid boat, the Unification Ministry said on Thursday.

The two escapees, both men aged in their 20s, were captured by the South Korean Navy on Saturday aboard a fishing vessel in waters below the inter-Korean maritime border on the peninsula’s eastern coast, a ministry official told reporters.

A subsequent investigation by the South Korean government revealed the duo had worked as fishermen in the North but had fled after killing 16 fellow crewmen sometime in late October.

The pair told South Korean authorities they had plotted the crime along with a third person, to take revenge on the ship’s captain who had incessantly subjected them to physical abuse. They ended up murdering the captain and 15 others who protested his killing, the official said.

After docking in Kimchaek harbor in North Hamgyong Province, the third accomplice was caught by North Korean authorities, prompting the duo to sail out to sea to escape the law.

The Unification Ministry official said the two sailors had even tried to evade the South Korean Navy after they were detected and fired at, leading to a two-day chase.

When they were finally captured, the duo requested asylum from South Korea. No bodies were found on the boat, presumably having been disposed of at sea, the official said.

In spite of their appeal to defect to South Korea, the fact that the alleged murders are non-political crimes led Seoul to deny their request for protection and repatriate them back to the North.

“We settled on expulsion based on a government assessment that [the escapees] posed a threat toward the [South Korean] people’s lives and safety and given the fact that they, as felons, cannot be regarded as refugees according to international law,” the official said.

North Korea was apparently aware of the duo’s escape and accepted the South’s offer to repatriate them. They were handed off to the North’s authorities through the inter-Korean land border at Panmunjom at 3:12 p.m. on Thursday, the official said.

While their fate in the regime is likely to be execution - North Korea enforces the death penalty for felony murder charges under Article 266 of its criminal law code - the ministry official said the government had only followed an existing guideline for such cases and that it was difficult to accept the escapees under the regular humanitarian principles reserved for usual refugees from North Korea.

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