South Korea sends back eight Northern fishemen

South Korea sends back eight Northern fishemen South Korea repatriated eight North Korean fishermen who were rescued last week while drifting in waters off the country's east coast, Yonhap news agency said on Monday, citing government officials.

The South sent the North Koreans on two vessels across the de facto inter-Korean maritime border, known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL), in the East Sea, earlier in the day, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

"Two North Korean patrol ships and two tugboats appeared near the NLL, and the sailors were sent to the North," Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

The latest case marked the first repatriation since December last year when the South handed over three fishermen via the truce village of Panmunjom.

The North Korean vessels showed up in the morning without any response to Seoul's repeated offer to repatriate them last week. All of the sailors expressed their desire to go home, sources said.

Seoul used loudspeakers last week to contact North Korea as Pyongyang cut off the two main communication channels with South Korea in response to Seoul's decision to shut down the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex in February.

The ministry said that the fishermen were drifting on three vessels for more than two months after presumably colliding with Chinese vessels in the East Sea. Because one ship was beyond repair it was abandoned with the consent of the North Korean crew.

Citing the sailors' account, the spokesman said last Thursday that fewer than 10 sailors starved to death, without elaborating.
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