27 Mar 2011

South Korea sends 27 North Koreans home

10:00 pm on 27 March 2011

South Korea has repatriated 27 North Koreans whose boat drifted into the South's waters last month, ending a row which threatened to further damage relations between the two Koreas.

Four North Koreans who had also been aboard the fishing boat decided to stay in the South, prompting the diplomatic dispute.

The North Koreans were sent home across the disputed western sea border a day after the first anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship near the border, an incident which seriously escalated tensions.

The group was placed aboard a South Korean naval vessel and then, near the border, transferred onto the wooden fishing boat on which they made their way into the South's waters.

The Red Cross said a North Korean patrol ship escorted the boat once it crossed the sea border.

The fishing boat, with 31 North Koreans aboard, had been sailing south off the peninsula's west coast when it entered South Korean territory.

After the four passengers decided to defect, authorities in the North accused Seoul of forcing them to remain against their will.

Both sides, technically still at war as the 1950-53 Korean war only ended with a truce, not a peace treaty, later agreed to the repatriation of the 27.

But their return had been postponed by weather conditions and technical problems with the boat.