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Koreas in row over rescued sailor repatriation

All Headlines 11:12 July 13, 2015

SEOUL, July 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea voiced regret Monday that North Korea has demanded the South repatriate all five North Korean fishermen recently rescued in the South's waters, with Pyongyang refusing to only accept the two sailors who have expressed their desire to go home.

Five North Korean sailors were rescued by the South's Coast Guard on July 4 while drifting on a vessel due to engine failure near the eastern island of Ulleung. Three fishermen have expressed their wish to defect to the South, while the two others said they want to go back to the North.

The Unification Ministry said it sent a notice earlier in the day saying that the North should immediately accept the South's repatriation request and take the two fishermen back.

"It is regrettable that the North has refused to take into custody the two sailors who have voiced their hope to go home despite Seoul's repeated calls," Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, told a press briefing.

South Korea had planned to send them back home Friday through the truce village of Panmunjom, but the North has not accepted Seoul's request.

On Friday, the North urged the South to reveal the identities of the hopefuls for defection and to allow their families to have a meeting with them, a move that Seoul rejected on humanitarian grounds.

Tension on the divided peninsula remains high over North Korea's provocative actions, including its launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine in May.

Despite such tension, the two Koreas have a practice of repatriating civilians who accidentally land in each other's territory.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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