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South Korea sends back stray North Korean fishing boat

Source: Reuters - Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Updates with reaction from North Korean state media)

SEOUL, March 28 (Reuters) - South Korea on Friday sent back a North Korean fishing boat that had drifted across a disputed maritime border off the west coast, the defence ministry said, defusing tensions in an area which has been the scene of deadly clashes in recent years.

South Korea's military had seized the boat after it ignored warnings to retreat, but later confirmed the vessel had experienced engine failure and the three crewmen had no wish to defect to the South, a ministry official said.

North Korean state media said offshore fog and a malfunction with the boat had caused it to lose its way, but South Korean warships had rapidly surrounded the ship and fired warning shots before it could correct its course.

"We cannot ignore the outrageous, thuggish action taken by the South Korean warmongers to forcibly detain our ship, and commit acts of inhumane brutality towards our fisherman," said the statement, quoting a North Korean army spokesman.

The incident came as the North faced renewed pressure from the international community after it fired two mid-range missiles on Wednesday just as the leaders of the South, Japan and the United States pledged to curb its arms ambitions.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday condemned the missile launch as a violation of U.N. resolutions and will hold discussions on a response, Luxembourg's U.N. Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, who is the council president, said.

On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights council called for the Security Council to hold accountable those committing documented crimes against humanity in North Korea. The Geneva forum adopted a resolution brought by Japan and the European Union, while North Korea rejecting it, saying "Mind your own business".

North Korea refuses to recognise the so-called Northern Limit Line that has been the naval border since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The two sides have been technically at war ever since, as the fighting ended with a truce, not a treaty.

North Korean navy vessels crossed the line in 1999 and 2002 that led to clashes that killed an unidentified number of sailors on both sides.

A South Korean navy ship was sunk four years ago near the area of the latest infringement. An international team of investigators said it was torpedoed by the North, but Pyongyang denies the charge and calls it "a farce". Months later the North bombarded a village on South Korean island in the same area, killing four people. (Reporting by Ju-min Park and James Pearson; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Ron Popeski)

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