China seeks release of fishing boat seized by North Korea

SHANGHAI Sun May 19, 2013 12:21pm EDT

A North Korean soldier (C, bottom) patrols at a guard post as North Koreans work on a rice field at a North Korean village in this picture taken from a South Korean observation post, just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul May 19, 2013. REUTERS/Park Chul-Jung/News1

A North Korean soldier (C, bottom) patrols at a guard post as North Koreans work on a rice field at a North Korean village in this picture taken from a South Korean observation post, just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul May 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Park Chul-Jung/News1

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - North Korean forces have seized a Chinese fishing boat, Chinese officials told state-run news agency Xinhua late on Sunday, creating a potential new irritant in ties between the two allies.

Chinese counselor to North Korea Jiang Yaxian said North Korea had "grabbed" the private vessel from the northern city of Dalian in waters between China and the Korean peninsula, according to the official news portal.

Tensions have been mounting between North Korea and China, its most important economic and political backer. Some Chinese banks have frozen out North Korea's main foreign exchange bank amid frustration in Beijing over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Ignoring international calls for restraint, North Korea fired a short-range missile from its east cost on Sunday, its fourth in two days, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Other Chinese state media quoted the owner of the missing boat, Yu Xuejun, as saying North Korea was demanding 600,000 yuan ($97,600) for its safe return, along with its 16 crew.

Yu told local media that the boat had been snatched on the evening of May 5 and he had approached Chinese authorities five days later to ask them to intervene.

"Upon receiving the call, the Chinese embassy promptly made representations to the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the DPRK (North Korean) Foreign Ministry, asking the DPRK side to release the boat and the fishermen as soon as possible," counselor Jiang told Xinhua.

"We will continue efforts to ensure that this issue is properly addressed at an early date."

This is not the first time Chinese vessels have been forcibly taken by North Korea. A year ago, it held a number of boats and fishermen for two weeks before releasing them.

($1 = 6.1492 Chinese yuan)

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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