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(2nd LD) N. Korea to send officials to truce village over NK sailor repatriation

All Headlines 19:17 July 13, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 3-8, 11-12)

SEOUL, July 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Monday that it will send officials to the truce village of Panmunjom this week to take into custody all five North Korean fishermen who were rescued in the South's waters earlier this month.

Pyongyang has demanded Seoul to repatriate the five sailors who were found drifting on a vessel due to engine failure and rescued by the South's Coast Guard on July 4. The South has said that it will send only two North Korean fishermen who expressed their wish to go home. Three others voiced their hope for defection to South Korea.

North Korea's Red Cross sent a notice on Monday saying that its officials, along with the family members of the three fishermen, plan to go to the truce village on Tuesday to take into custody all of them, according to North Korea's key propaganda website, Uriminjokkiri.

"We strongly urge South Korea to take actions to allow their family members to meet with the fishermen," it added.

The North made its demand as it called on the South on Friday to reveal the identities of the hopefuls for defection and to allow their families to meet with them, a move that Seoul rejected on humanitarian grounds.

Pyongyang threatened to take "stern" actions against Seoul if the South does not send all of them back to the North.

The Unification Ministry reiterated its stance that it could not accept the North's demand for a family meeting with the three North Koreans who voiced their desire to stay in the South.

"We notified the North that Seoul will repatriate the two sailors on Tuesday at the truce village," the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the ministry voiced regret over the North's request.

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.

In what could be seen as a conciliatory tit-for-tat, South Korea sent home five rescued North Korean fishermen on humanitarian grounds on June 18.

A day earlier, the North repatriated two South Koreans who allegedly sneaked into the communist nation in May during their trip to China.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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