SEOUL (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 defense 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.
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.
North Korea refuses to recognize 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; Editing by Jeremy Laurence