May 20, 2012 / 4:00 PM / 7 years ago

North Korea releases detained Chinese fishermen

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea released a number of Chinese fishermen and boats on Sunday two weeks after seizing them, ending a rare public dispute between the two allies, Chinese state media reported.

The boats were taken in the Yellow Sea between China and North Korea on May 8 - although it remains unclear whether the action was authorized by the North Korean government.

The North Koreans who took the boats had demanded 1.2 million yuan ($189,800) for releasing the fishermen, then cut their price to 900,000 yuan, the owner of one of the captured vessels said last week.

The report on the Xinhua news agency did not say whether any payment had been made.

China is the key economic and diplomatic backer of North Korea, seeing it as a buffer against U.S. influence in the region. Beijing is a major supplier of food aid and oil to Pyongyang, which remains isolated by sanctions over its nuclear ambitions and rocket launches.

China has been quietly pressing North Korea to scrap plans for a third nuclear test, sources with knowledge of closed-door talks between the countries have told Reuters.

Pyongyang has sought to strengthen ties with Beijing through frequent visits and praise of their friendship, but the North can also be resentful about what it sees as infringements of its territory, and Chinese dominance of relations.

Reporting by Don Durfee; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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