South Korea Awaits Word on Fishermen Seized by North

Investigations into four South Korean fishermen who were seized after illegally entering North Korean waters continued for a third day Saturday, North Korea said.

South Korea has urged their quick release, saying their boat
accidentally strayed across the sea border.

The 29-ton boat drifted north Thursday after its satellite
navigation system apparently malfunctioned. North Korean soldiers
towed the vessel to the eastern port of Jangjon, just north of the
border, South Korean officials said.

"A relevant institution is conducting a concrete
investigation" into the incident, the North's official Korean
Central News Agency reported Saturday, noting the South Korean boat
"illegally intruded deep into" the North's waters. The brief
dispatch did not give any word on the fishermen's condition or any
other details.

North Korea's military said Friday in a written message to the
South that "the issue of crew members and the vessel would be
dealt with according to the outcome of the investigation,"
according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.

Hours later, South Korea's military sent a written message
repeating Seoul's calls for the men and their boat to be quickly
released, noting that they crossed into the North's waters due to
an error.

Some analysts said the North could use the fishermen to exert
pressure on Seoul amid badly strained ties between the two Koreas,
which technically remain at war because their three-year conflict
ended in a truce in 1953, not a peace treaty.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said he viewed the North's
quick reaction as positive but was cautious, saying he will wait
and see how things will play out, according to his spokeswoman Lee
Jong-joo.

"I hope that my husband and three other crew members will
quickly return home along with their boat," Lee Ah-na, the wife of
the boat's skipper Park Kwang-sun, told the Associated Press from
the eastern port of Geojin, just south of the border.

Maritime incidents involving fishing boats and other commercial
vessels occur from time to time. While most are resolved amicably,
two skirmishes involving military ships twice have sparked deadly
naval battles, in 1999 and 2002.

North Korea, censured by the U.N. Security Council for a spate
of nuclear and missile tests his year, has custody of a South
Korean employee of the two Koreas' joint industrial park in the
border town of Kaesong, in addition to two American journalists
sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor.

South Korea allowed a North Korean patrol vessel to tow away a
North Korean fishing boat that crossed the countries' disputed
western maritime border on Thursday, according to South Korea's
Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Relations between the two Koreas have been tense since a
pro-U.S., conservative government took office in Seoul last year
advocating a tougher policy on the North.

Pyongyang cut off nearly all ties in retaliation, and halted
major joint projects except for an industrial complex located just
across the border in the North.


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