By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to hand over a fishing boat to North Korea late on Friday, a day after it deported two North Koreans accused of killing 16 fellow crew members of the vessel to the communist state, the unification ministry said.
On Thursday, the two in their 20s were sent back to the North through the truce village of Panmunjom, five days after they were captured near the eastern sea border on Saturday.
The two later confessed that they and another crew member killed the captain of the fishing boat out of anger over his physical abuse before killing the remaining protesting fellow crew members one by one later. The third person was arrested in the North when they tried to sneak back to their home country.
"We plan to hand over their boat today," Kim Eun-han, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. "I think that it will take place in the afternoon, though things are subject to change depending on maritime weather conditions."
Thursday's deportation marked the first of its kind since the 1950-53 Korean War. South Korea usually accepts North Koreans as defectors if they want to resettle here to avoid oppression and poverty and repatriates those who drifted to the South in accordance with their wishes.
Though the two North Koreans expressed an intent to defect, the government said that it determined not to respect it on the belief that they just crossed into the South in order to flee arrest.
The unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs earlier said that the decision was to protect the lives and safety of its people, saying that such heinous criminals are not eligible for protection granted to refugees under international law.
Some still criticized the government for hastily deciding to send the North Koreans back after just five days of investigation and solely based on their words without physical evidence to prove their crimes. They apparently dumped all the dead bodies overboard.
Critics also called for the government to come up with appropriate guidelines for deciding whether to deport North Koreans based on crimes.
The deputy spokesperson defended the decision to send them back to the North but added that the government will take note of criticisms that raised the need to supplement current manuals to deal with such cases.
"Taking into account all circumstances, we determined to see them as part of efforts to run away after committing a crime, rather than to express an intent to defect," he said. "We still will take note of voices raising the need to supplement relevant procedures."
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