(LEAD) S. Korean gov't releases footage of two N.K. fishermen being repatriated in 2019
(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 4-5; ADDS comments from ministry official in last 5 paras)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry released footage Monday showing two North Korean fishermen repatriated across the inter-Korean border in 2019.
The highly unusual move came amid a heated political controversy over whether it was right and appropriate for the then liberal Moon Jae-in administration to have sent them back to the North, where they must have faced harsh punishment.
The four-minute video, filmed by a ministry official, showed one of the fishermen physically resisting being pulled across the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) at the truce village of Panmunjom as he was handed over to North Korean authorities.
As he was taken toward the MDL, he dropped to his knees and crawled to the side before the sound of a loud bump was caught on the video, suggesting that he had attempted to hit his head on the ground.
The video clip also showed the two fishermen, both tied up and blindfolded, waiting inside the Freedom House on the southern side of Panmunjom before being repatriated.
On Nov. 7, 2019, the Moon government repatriated the two North Koreans captured a week earlier near the eastern sea border, saying they had confessed to killing 16 fellow crew members.
At issue is whether they expressed a desire "with sincerity" to defect to the South.
Critics have accused the then Moon administration of hastily kicking out the fishermen in a bid to curry favor with Pyongyang.
Last week, the ministry handling inter-Korean affairs under the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration unveiled 10 photos of the fishermen being handed over to the North.
In the photos, an official was spotted filming the repatriation on his mobile phone, prompting lawmakers to call for the release of the footage.
"It has been confirmed that one unification ministry official filmed the repatriation process on his personal mobile phone and the video was shared among only a few relevant officials but was not managed as an official record in the ministry," an official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The ministry has carried out a related legal review and decided to submit the clip to the parliament and open it to the public, he said, dismissing a view that the official might have violated a regulation by filming the scene.
As the official was assisting the repatriation work, it is deemed to be within the "boundary" of his task, he added.
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