SEOUL, June 2 (Reuters) - South Korea said on Monday it has accepted the wish of two North Koreans whose boat drifted into its waters to defect but will return a third who wanted to go back as North Korea demanded their return.
The three, described by the North as fishermen, were picked up by a South Korean patrol ship on Saturday near Ulleung-do island off the east coast, the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with the North, said.
The third will be repatriated on Tuesday through the Panmunjom truce village that straddles the heavily armed border drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Hostilities ended with a truce, not a treaty, meaning the two sides are still technically at war.
North Korean fishing boats that sail near the two Koreas’ maritime border sometimes cross the unmarked line inadvertently and many of the crew opt to be repatriated.
Once back, they are often put on media display, criticising the South for harsh treatment and aggressive attempts to persuade them to defect.
On Saturday, the North’s official media reported a life sentence of hard labour on a South Korean missionary who they said had confessed to infiltrating the North to set up underground churches and spy.
North Korea is also holding Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae after sentencing him to 15 years of hard labour on charges of subversion. Bae has been in custody for 18 months.
The isolated country has twice cancelled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to discuss Bae’s case. (Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie)