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DPRK to return ROK boat and its crew held over illegal fishing

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-07 07:59
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Pyongyang - The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) said on Monday it will release an ROK fishing boat and its seven crew members seized last month for alleged illegal fishing, in an apparently conciliatory gesture after months of high tensions.

The ROK's Red Cross was notified earlier in the day by its DPRK counterpart that seven crew members and the seized boat Daeseung 55 will be returned to ROK on Tuesday across the east coast sea border, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

The release will be made "from the compatriotic and humanitarian points of view," DPRK's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The crew members including four Koreans and three Chinese fishermen were taken in custody on Aug 8, being accused of trespassing into the DPRK's exclusive economic zone off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, which was regarded as "an intolerable infringement upon the sovereignty of (DPRK)", according to the KCNA.

The KCNA said Pyongyang took into consideration a request from Seoul's Red Cross "to leniently forgive and send them back" and also the fact that the crew admitted the "seriousness of their act and gave assurances that they would never repeat such act".

Relations have been icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing an ROK corvette in March killing 46 sailors.

The fishing boat was seized by the DPRK during a major ROK naval exercise in the Yellow Sea, on the other side of the peninsula, for which Pyongyang had threatened retaliation.

Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking of the warship and says naval exercises staged in response to the incident are a preparation for war.

The decision to release the crew comes as Pyongyang gears up for the biggest meeting of its ruling Workers' Party in 30 years this week.

Last week the ROK's Red Cross offered the DPRK aid worth 10 billion won ($8.3 million) following major floods that devastated the country's northwestern region.

"The move signals Pyongyang's effort to ease tense ties at a time when Seoul is mulling a resumption of food aid to the North," Choi Jin-wook of the Korea Institute for National Unification told AFP.

Choi said Beijing must have intensified pressure on Kim Jong-il during his recent trip to China to "make some kind of conciliatory gestures" to Seoul.

"Beijing must have played a role as well, as Kim is seeking to increase economic cooperation with China and to attract more investment from China," he said.

Yang Moo-jin, an ROK professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said: "The release will help create a good atmosphere for dialogue. It will also positively affect efforts to resume the Six-Party Talks."

The March sinking has remained a key obstacle to restarting the nuclear disarmament talks, which involve the DPRK, the ROK, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

DPRK leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly told Chinese President Hu Jintao that Pyongyang was willing to return to the nuclear forum and reduce regional tensions during his latest visit to China.

Agencies-China Daily

(China Daily 09/07/2010 page11)