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SKorea hopes NKorea will return boat soon

world Updated: Jul 31, 2009 13:54 IST
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South Korea on Friday expressed hope that North Korea will soon return a captured fishing boat and its four crew members, insisting that the vessel had accidentally strayed into Pyongyang's waters.

North Korean maritime authorities said on Friday that they did not yet have any information to give concerning the four fishermen, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-Sung said in Seoul.

"It was accidental and we've urged the North to return the boat and crew at the earliest possible date," he told reporters.

"There are inter-Korean traditions on how to handle accidental sea border crossings. Therefore, we hope that the North will take this humanitarian measure at an early date."

Chun said, navigational errors led the 29-ton squid fishing vessel to drift into North Korean waters off the peninsula's east coast on Thursday. It was seized by a patrol boat of the North's navy and taken to port, according to Seoul.

North Korea was relatively quick in returning two South Korean trawlers that strayed into its waters in 2005 and 2006. But tensions have turned acute this year after recent nuclear and missile tests by the communist state.

North Korea has been holding a South Korean worker arrested at a Seoul-invested industrial estate in Kaesong on March 30 for allegedly insulting the North's regime and urging a North Korean worker to defect to the South.

North Korea is also holding two US journalists captured at its border with China on March 17 and jailed for 12 years on charges of committing hostile acts.

Analysts were divided on how Pyongyang would handle the latest incident.

"Because of the tense inter-Korean ties, there is the possibility of the North holding the crew for a long time as in the case of the South Korean worker," professor Nam Joo-Hong of Kyonggi University told the Dong-A daily.

But Suh Jae-Jean, president of the state-financed Korea Institute for National Unification, said the North was "highly likely to release them within a few days" as it wants to avoid worsening its international isolation.

North Korea has lashed out with angry rhetoric after being slapped with tougher UN sanctions for carrying out a second nuclear test on May 25.