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Seoul says it deported NK fishermen for ‘disingenuous intention’ to defect

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

South Korea has deported two North Korean fishermen accused of killing 16 crew members in November, after concluding that their intentions to defect were disingenuous, according to local news reports Wednesday.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the South Korean government had responded to letter sent by UN special rapporteur for North Korea’s human rights Tomas Ojea Quintana in January to inquire the repatriation of two fishermen to North Korea.

Seoul explained that while the two men later said they wanted to resettle in South Korea, authorities determined their intentions were insincere, considering the men were trying to flee even when the Navy fired warning shots to capture them, and that other men had attempted to take their lives. 

The government added it was difficult to guarantee a fair trial, citing difficulties of obtaining evidence and lack of support from North Korea. It also added that exercising jurisdiction on North Korean citizens could pose a danger to its own citizens. The government had evaluated the Constitution and international treaties, but couldn’t find clauses applicable to the fishermen.

“They could not be considered refugees because, as suspected murderers, they had committed a nonpolitical crime,” authorities said in response.

The OHCHR also sent a similar appeal letter to North Korea about the situation of its deported citizens, but had not heard back from the regime.

On Nov. 2, the South Korean Navy captured two North Korean fishermen, both in their 20s, on a squid fishing vessel in territorial waters during a chase that lasted two days. After an investigation, the government concluded that they had killed the captain of their boat and 15 fellow crew members and fled to the South to avoid arrest from the North. Five days later, South Korea deported the two men at the border village of Panmunjom.

It is the first time that Seoul had deported any North Korean nationals who arrived here since the Korean War ended in 1953.

Human rights group have condemned Seoul’s rare decision to hastily repatriate them, which could put them at substantial risk of torture or other punishment upon return.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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