North Korea on Saturday set free four South Korean fishermen who were held for nearly a month for their alleged intrusion into the North Korean maritime zone.
The move followed an inter-Korean accord to resume the reunions of divided families after a hiatus of nearly two years. While the South Korean government formally announced the accord on reunions fashioned by Red Cross officials, the country’s maritime security police was reported to have escorted the freed fishermen home.
Under the reunions accord, 100 families from each side would be able to meet between September 26 and October 1, prior to a traditional inter-Korean holiday. Divided families are a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which came to a close on the basis of an armistice accord without a political settlement. South Korean officials now wanted the spirit of the reunions accord to be sustained for a long-term solution.
North Korea’s latest gestures were seen in the region as a positive sign for inter-Korean ties. Pyongyang’s other key gestures during this month were the release of two American journalists, the freeing of a South Korean worker, special homage to a former South Korean President on his death, the re-opening of cross-border traffic, and the reactivation of an inter-Korean military hotline.
An alternative viewpoint in the region was that these gestures were the result of the heat that Pyongyang began feeling under the recently tightened sanctions of the United Nations Security Council. The sanctions followed North Korea’s second nuclear weapon test and missile test-flights earlier this year.