Saturday, August 29, 2009

North Korea returns South fishermen after a month

North Korea

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean fishing boat and its crew that strayed into North Korean waters and were held for a month were returned on Saturday as the communist state reaches out to its foes after months of military grandstanding.

The release of the boat was the latest in a series of conciliatory moves by the North that also included a deal on Friday to resume reunions of families separated by war and the reopening of its border with the South to commercial traffic.

"We have taken over the Yonan," a coast guard official in the city of Sokcho on the east coast said, referring to the name of the fishing boat.

Analysts said the conciliatory moves made by the North this month may be aimed at bolstering its coffers after U.N. sanctions imposed for its nuclear test in May made it more difficult to trade arms, cutting into a key source of cash.

In the first significant action taken against the North under the U.N. sanctions adopted in June, the United Arab Emirates has seized a cargo of North Korean weapons being shipped to Iran, western diplomats at the United Nations said on Friday.

The weapons seized on August 14 included rocket launchers, detonators, munitions and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades, the diplomats said.

"The cargo was deceptively labeled," said a diplomat "The cargo manifest said that the ship contained oil-boring machines. But then you opened it up and you found these arms."

Diplomats said both North Korea and Iran appeared to be in breach of Security Council resolution 1874, which banned all arms exports from North Korea and authorized states to search suspicious ships and seize and destroy banned items.

Diplomats said the UAE seizure, which was done on the basis of the country's own intelligence reports, was an important success for the beefed-up North Korean sanctions regime and would hopefully deter further attempts at skirting sanctions.

Two South Korean coast guard vessels were guiding the squid fishing boat to port after it was turned over by the North across the maritime boarder off the peninsula's east coast on Saturday, a coast guard official said.

The capture of the boat and its four-man crew on July 30 after it strayed north with a navigational system malfunction came while ties between the two Koreas were tense. North Korea had refused dialogue with the South in anger over Seoul's conservative leader's move to cut off ties until Pyongyang abandoned its nuclear arms programme.

North Korea, already a pariah state, has become even more isolated by the international community in recent months after a series of missile launches and its second nuclear test which resulted in tighter U.N. sanctions.


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