South Korea's defense ministry said Sunday that allegations by Pyongyang of mistreatment of North Korean fishermen are a gross distortion of the facts, while expressing regret over threats made by the communist country over the incident.
The response came after North Korean news outlets on Saturday released an interview of the three-person crew claiming the South Korean Navy beat them and tried to persuade them to defect.
The ministry said in a statement that the seizure of the small fishing boat near Baengnyeong Island late Thursday occurred only after the crew failed to heed verbal warnings and shots fired across the bow to get the boat to retreat.
The boat had drifted 1.8 kilometers into waters in the Yellow Sea controlled by Seoul after developing engine trouble, and was seized at around 8 p.m. The boat had crossed the Northern Limit Line at 5:26 p.m. After the crew was questioned, the three men and the boat were returned to the North at around 2 a.m. Friday.
"The crew ignored calls to head back and used force so the South Korean Navy took appropriate measures to secure the boat that are consistent with standing procedures," the ministry statement said.
Military sources said the crew used lit torches and clubs to repel the boarding party. They said that while sailors used suppression tactics, the fishermen were not beaten or abused in the process.
It added that after seizing the boat, the crew were questioned, and after they made clear they had no intention to defect, all were returned to the North.
"We sent the crew back quickly in accordance with their wishes, but the North is using unilateral testimonies made by the fishermen to claim they were beaten and abused," the ministry said.
Moves to escalate tensions based on false testimonies should be halted immediately, it added. (Yonhap)