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N. Korea denies executions of citizens who crossed border

All Headlines 20:47 February 21, 2008

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Thursday blasted rumors that its citizens who crossed the sea border into South Korea and who were returned by South Korean authorities earlier this month have been executed, claiming that the people are currently living normal lives, and that the rumor is an "anti-North Korea plot" by South Korea's extreme conservatives.

Two fishing boats carrying 22 North Koreans -- 14 women and eight men including three teenagers -- drifted into western waters off South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island on Feb. 8. The North Koreans were sent back home after South Korean interrogators found they had no intention of defecting, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said last week. The NIS announcement came only after a local daily reported the return.

The North Koreans were residents of Kangnyeong County, North Korea's southern coastal province of South Hwanghae, who went to sea to collect clams and oysters without a permit from the North Korean maritime agency, according to the intelligence service.

A source well-versed in North Korea told Yonhap News Agency, however, that the people were all executed immediately after returning home. The provincial branch of North Korea's National Security Agency shot and killed them secretly, the source said.

"A rumor spread in South Hwanghae Province that (the security agency) secretly executed the 22 people immediately after they were returned," the source said.

Given the large number of North Koreans spotted aboard, suspicions had been raised that they were seeking asylum but were returned. The fact that the majority were women and that three were students aged 15 to 17 contributed to the suspicion of their defection attempt.

The NIS denied the suspicions, however, saying joint interrogation by it and the police found that they were neither asylum seekers nor spies.

The North Koreans were sent back home through an overland route after being brought to the port city of Incheon for interrogation.

"Our people, who drifted due to high seas, flatly rejected an enticement (by South Korea) that they would be guaranteed a wealthy livelihood if they defected to the South, and now live normal lives in their homes after returning," said a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a mouthpiece for the North's ruling Workers' Party that is monitored here.

"Ultra-rightists in the South have persistently stuck to an anti-unification plot since the December presidential election in order to overturn the continuously improving inter-Korean relations," said the spokesman. Lee Myung-bak from the conservative opposition Grand National Party, who promised a tough stance on North Korea in his campaign, won the election in a landslide.

"We are closely watching developments in the South," the spokesman said.

The spokesman also strongly criticized suspicions that the North diverted South Korean food aid for military use, saying that such acts "neither happened nor should be. They are purely a plot," the spokesman said.

"Such claims as execution or diversion are a manipulation that only those who are mad at forging anti-North Korea plots can make. We are infuriated by such smear maneuvers."

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