North Korea has freed four South Korean fishermen it had held for almost a month after they strayed into North Korean waters, maritime police said. The Yeonanho fishing vessel and its crew arrived at South Korea's Sokcho port on Saturday.
AFP - North Korea on Saturday freed four South Korean fishermen it had held for almost a month, maritime police said, the latest move to ease tension after more than a year of hostility between the two sides.
The fishing vessel Yeonanho and its relieved crew arrived at the South's Sokcho port after their early evening release and a three-hour journey by sea for which they were escorted by two South Korean patrol boats, police said.
"I'm so happy to be home. We appreciate people's support for us to return home," skipper Park Kwang-Seon said on television.
Looking healthy, Park and the three other fishermen smiled and waved to their relatives who were waiting for them at the port.
Following a brief reunion with their families, the fishermen were taken to a nearby military base to be questioned by investigators about their detention in the communist North, KBS TV said.
They had been seized when their trawler drifted into the North's waters off the east coast on July 30 in an incident the South blamed on a malfunctioning navigation system.
North Korea had insisted that the boat illegally intruded into its territorial waters, but it said Friday it would set the men free the next day, the latest in a series of overtures to South Korea.
"I am overjoyed. I don't know how I spent the past month," Lee Ah-Na, the wife of skipper Park, told journalists shortly before his return.
"I saw him in a dream last night."
The release was welcomed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, although he also urged progress on the North's nuclear activities.
Ban expressed hope "this humanitarian action will continue in the future without interruption," his office said in a statement.
"He hopes that these steps will help create conditions conducive to improving inter-Korean relations and the peaceful resolution of outstanding matters, including the nuclear issue."
After months of sabre-rattling, including missile launches and a nuclear test which brought tougher United Nations sanctions, North Korea has made a series of conciliatory moves to Seoul and Washington.
The ruling Communist party's official daily Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which has often lambasted the US and South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak, Saturday called for "inter-Korean solidarity".
This would open a path for reunification on the Korean peninsula without foreign intervention, the mouthpiece said, urging both sides to implement a historic declaration for peace and reconciliation made at a summit in 2000.
The distinct recent change in tone from Kim Jong-Il's isolated regime saw the North this month pardon and free two US reporters after former US president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang.
It has also expressed willingness to start talks with Washington to end the nuclear standoff and released a South Korean worker it had detained for over four months at a joint industrial estate.
Kim, who last year cut virtually all contacts with the South's government, sent a team to Seoul this month to mourn ex-president Kim Dae-Jung and hold talks with current leader Lee.
On Friday, the North and South agreed to resume reunions between families who have not seen each other since the end of the Korean war in 1953, although Seoul still says hundreds of its people are being held against their will.
Date created : 2009-08-30