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S. Korea Demands Return of Crew from Fishing Boat Seized by North

By Kurt Achin
Seoul
30 July 2009

South Korea is demanding that North Korea return a fishing boat and its crew that crossed into the North's waters in a possible case of mistaken navigation. The demand has not yet received a response.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said Thursday the fishing boat was towed into a North Korean port by a police boat early in the morning.

He says the boat apparently experienced technical problems with is satellite navigation system. Chun says the South Korean government has confirmed the boat did indeed cross into the North's territorial waters.

Chun says Seoul has asked the North to return the boat and the crew "as soon as possible," saying there is a clear precedent for such a return. He says there have been two cases this year in which North Korean boats crossed into South Korean waters, and the South released them immediately on humanitarian grounds.

Park Sung-woo is a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea's military. He says the South Korean boat did not respond to initial communications from the South Korean navy.
He says the fishing boat was relatively small, and made of reinforced plastic. Those factors made it very difficult for radar to detect the vessel before it crossed into North Korean waters.

Thursday's incident took place in waters west of the Korean peninsula - one of the tensest maritime regions in the world. North Korea has never accepted a United Nations-mandated border there, and the two Koreas have fought two deadly naval battles in the area in the past 10 years.

The capture adds another complication in what has been a steady deterioration of North-South ties since last year's inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. North Korean media often label Mr. Lee a "traitor". He curtailed nearly 10 years of uncritical South Korean aid and investment in the North, pending progress in efforts to end the North's nuclear weapons programs.

Some here in South Korea fear the four fishing boat crew members will be added to a list of other detainees Pyongyang may use for diplomatic leverage. The North has held a South Korean executive and two American journalists for nearly four months.



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