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(2nd LD) S. Korea repatriates 3 N. Koreans who strayed across sea border

All Headlines 15:53 January 07, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with return; ADDS background)

SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Friday repatriated three North Korean fishermen who had drifted on a boat across the countries' tense western sea border last month, an official said.

The fishermen were rescued by the South Korean Navy on Dec. 3 near the island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a briefing.

The island was the site of an attack by North Korean artillery units on Nov. 23, which killed four South Korean people, including two civilians.

"The three North Koreans were sent back at 2 p.m. to the North through the village of Panmunjom" that straddles the Koreas, said a Unification Ministry official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Another North Korean civilian remains under questioning in the South after he drifted across the Yellow Sea border on a boat on Christmas Day. Chun would not say whether he also wanted to return home.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Their citizens are not allowed to travel to the other side without government approval, and their land border is among the world's most heavily fortified.

Cases of North Koreans straying south of the border in the sea after their fishing boats malfunction or get lost amid bad weather are not uncommon.


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