|One of the South Korean citizens that had been held in North Korea since early 2010 returns from the communist state via the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom. (Yonhap News)|
North Korea on Friday returned home six South Koreans, who had been held in the reclusive state apparently since early 2010, via the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom.
The six men, aged between 27 and 67, walked past the military demarcation line running through the village at around 4:50 p.m., some 20 minutes later than they were set to return here.
They are presumed to have been caught crossing the border between the North and China, Seoul officials believe.
Investigators from the military, police and National Intelligence Service are expected to question them to find out how, when and why they entered the North. Should they be found to have voluntarily entered the North, they could be punished for violating the National Security Law.
After their abrupt release, suspicions were raised over Pyongyang’s true intentions.
Analysts said the release appeared aimed at mitigating international criticism for its recent breach of the inter-Korean agreement to hold reunions of separated families and abject human rights conditions concerning kidnapped foreigners and returned refugees.
Some others said the release might be part of efforts by the cash-strapped North to get more support from Seoul including for the resumed operation of the joint industrial park in the North’s border city of Gaeseong.
The announcement of the release came on the same day the North accepted a request by South Korean lawmakers to visit the Gaeseong complex, a crucial source of foreign currency. The complex was reopened recently after a five-month suspension.
In recent months, inter-Korean ties have continued to worsen with Pyongyang breaking the accord to hold family reunions and issuing a series of public statements denouncing the Park Geun-hye government for what it calls “hostile” policy toward it.
By Song Sang-ho