North Korea freed four South Korean fishermen and their boat on Saturday, an official said, the latest in a string of goodwill gestures that indicate Pyongyang’s desire to patch up relations with Seoul.
North Korean authorities handed over the fishermen and their boat to Coast Guard officials at the Koreas’ shared eastern border, said Kim Tae-jong, a Coast Guard spokesman at the eastern port of Sokcho, 210 km east of Seoul.
Pyongyang held the four South Koreans for a month after their boat strayed into northern waters on July 30. Maritime officials say the fishermen encountered difficulties with their satellite navigation system.
The fishermen were expected to arrive in Sokcho later Saturday, Kim said.
“The fishermen appeared to have no health problems,” Kim said, adding that they would undergo a medical check up at the port before a debriefing with officials.
The fishermen’s release was the latest sign that the North wants to improve ties with its southern neighbour and put stalled cross-border projects back on track following provocations including nuclear and missile tests.
Earlier this month, the North freed two American journalists and a South Korean worker after more than four months of detention. It also sent a delegation to Seoul to mourn the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
The two Koreas agreed on Friday to hold a new round of reunions next month for families separated by the Korean War. The six days of reunions involving 200 families are scheduled to be held at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort from September 26.
Millions of families were separated by the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a cease—fire, not a peace treaty. No mail, telephone or e-mail exchanges exist between ordinary citizens across the Korean border.
Following their first summit in 2000, the two Koreas regularly held family reunions until late 2007. Then, ties frayed badly after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung—bak took office last year with hard—line policies such as linking aid to North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.