N. Korea to Return Six S. Koreans

October 24, 2013

South and North Korean troops stand guard at the neutral border village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap file photo)

(Yonhap) North Korea informed Seoul that it will return six South Koreans who have been detained for illegally entering the country, a government official said.

“The North sent an official notice on Thursday that the six will be returned at the neutral truce village of Panmunjom Friday afternoon,” said the unification ministry official who wanted to remain anonymous. He declined to give details on the identities of those who are to be returned other than to say that at least four were mentioned by the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as having entered the country without authorization and were being questioned some three years ago.

“The KCNA reported authorities were questioning four South Koreans on Feb. 26, 2010,” the insider said, adding that at the time, Seoul had repeatedly asked Pyongyang to return the people they were holding.

The official said that the identities of two other people mentioned in the notice are unknown.

“Because the North had ignored the South’s request to send them back or even give basic personal information or how these people came to be inside the communist country, we do not really know under what circumstances they were detained or precisely how long they have been in the country,” he said.

However, he said that none of those to be returned were among people who were kidnapped by the North. This means they could have voluntarily entered the North or were apprehended along the North Korea-China border.

The official, meanwhile, said that while the North’s actions to release those detained come far too late, Seoul welcomed the humanitarian gesture.

“Once the six return home, they will be questioned by authorities to determine why they were detained in the North,” he said.

Related to the planned release of South Koreans, some North Korea watchers said the gesture may be a sign of the North trying to mend fences with Seoul after relations cooled following the postponement of family reunions for people separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.