Tensions in the Korean peninsula escalated over the weekend, with Seoul accusing the North of seizing a South Korean fishing boat off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula.
AFP - Seoul's government urged North Korea Monday to free a South Korean fishing boat and its crew as soon as possible, after the seizure heightened months of tensions between the two sides.
The South accuses the North of sinking one of its warships earlier this year and is staging a major naval exercise as a warning to its neighbour, despite protests and threats of retaliation from Pyongyang.
It was unclear whether the weekend seizure of the 41-ton squid fishing boat was a response to the drill, or just an attempt to curb alleged illegal fishing.
The South's unification ministry said there had been no word from the North since the Daeseung 55 was detained in or near an exclusive economic zone proclaimed by the North in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
The South's coastguard has said the boat, which was being towed Sunday to the North's port of Songjin, was presumed to have been in the zone when seized.
"The government has urged the North to deal quickly with the case and release our crew members and their boat in accordance with international law and practice," said unification ministry spokesman Chun Hae-Sung.
It was unclear where the boat -- with four South Korean and three Chinese crew -- was located when it was seized, he said.
Cross-border tensions have been high for months after South Korea and the United States accused the North of sending a submarine to torpedo a corvette in March with the loss of 46 lives.
The North vehemently denies involvement and says the current South Korean exercise is a prelude to an attack.
The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the last day of the exercise in the Yellow Sea would feature an attempt to intercept a mock North Korean submarine.
The South's forces would also stage a live-fire drill at Baengnyeong island near the disputed sea border.
The overall exercise, which involves 4,500 troops, 29 ships and 50 fighter jets, was set to end late Monday evening. It is one of a series planned in coming months.
South Korean fishing boats have previously crossed the border with the North, sometimes due to navigation problems, but have mostly been sent back.
"There have been three such cases in recent months but the ships were sent back soon," said coastguard spokesman Ji Gun-Tae. "For now, we are just waiting for news from the North."
In July last year a South Korean squid fishing boat, the Yeonan, accidentally crossed into North Korea's waters and was towed to a nearby port. It was released about a month later.
The crew of the Daeseung 55 last contacted South Korean fishing communication authorities on Sunday afternoon via satellite phone, and said their boat was being towed to Songjin.
The unification ministry said it has no plans at present to try to contact the North about the fishing boat. Communications are in any case restricted.
The North severed communications channels, except for two military hotlines, in May after the South announced reprisals for the alleged attack on the warship.
Date created : 2010-08-09