S. Korea deports 2 N. Korean fishermen who fled after murdering 16 crewmembers

Posted on : 2019-11-08 17:16 KST Modified on : 2019-11-08 17:16 KST
First instance of Seoul officially deporting N. Korean nationals
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo answers questions related to the deportation of two North Korean fisherman during a meeting of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee on Nov. 7.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo answers questions related to the deportation of two North Korean fisherman during a meeting of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee on Nov. 7.

The South Korean government announced on Nov. 7 that it had deported two North Korean fishermen in their 20s who confessed to having fled the North after killing 16 crewmembers on their boat. The two men were apprehended by the South Korean Navy near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the East Sea. This is the first time the government has officially announced the deportation of North Koreans.

“A joint investigation [by related ministries] determined that the two individuals, men in their 20s, took flight after killing 16 fellow crewmembers on a squid boat operating in the East Sea,” said Lee Sang-min, spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

“The government concluded that these individuals did not deserve protection given their grave nonpolitical crimes, including murder; that admitting them to South Korean society would pose a threat to the lives and safety of the public; and that they were not eligible for asylum status under international law because of their atrocious crimes. As such, following intergovernmental deliberations, the government decided to deport them,” Lee said.

“The government informed North Korean officials at the Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong on Nov. 5 that it intended to deport the men, and North Korea communicated its intention to receive them on Nov. 6,” said an official at the Unification Ministry.

Nov. 5 was the same day that the South Korea proposed having a joint inspection team visit the Mt. Kumgang tourism report, a message that was also conveyed to North Korea through their Kaesong liaison office.

Seoul said it plans to hand over the 17-ton squid boat that the two men were sailing to the North Koreans at the NLL in the East Sea on Nov. 8.

Men apparently murdered captain out of revenge for harsh treatment

Multiple sources in the government said that the two men left the harbor of Kimchaek, in North Hamgyong Province, in mid-August and spent two and a half months catching squid in Russian waters. During this time, the two men, along with one other crewmember, plotted the murder of the captain in revenge for his harsh treatment.

In an attempt to conceal their crime, the three are said to have “brutally murdered” 15 crewmembers with blunt weapons and dumped all their bodies into the sea. After one of the three accomplices was nabbed by the North Korean authorities in Kimchaek, the other two fled southward over the East Sea.

When reporters asked if there was any evidence of the murders aside from the men’s testimony, an official from the Unification Ministry explained that “their statements were consistent with the situation onboard the ship” and said “there’s no doubt that they committed the crimes.”

“The operation was launched on Oct. 31, and the South Korean Navy forced the men to surrender and brought them in early in the morning on Nov. 2. In the end, the men had no intention of defecting at the time of apprehension,” South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said in an appearance before the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee.

“While the men did express their intention to defect after being apprehended by the South Korean Navy, their testimony was too inconsistent to be regarded as credible, which is why we deported them. The men fled for two days after a run-in with a naval vessel and attempted to flee even after the South Korean Navy fired warning shots,” Unification Minister Kim Yeun-chul told members of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

The international deportation of criminals is typically governed by criminal extradition treaties. But there is no precedent for the South Korean government deporting North Koreans, nor are there any domestic laws or inter-Korean agreements that clearly address the issue. That ambiguity has fueled the debate over the government’s decision to deport the two men.

There is precedent for deportation in the other direction, however. After several South Koreans, including novelist Kim Ha-ki, swam across the Yalu River into North Korea in 1996, North Korea deported them to the South.

“We need to update the related laws,” said an official from the Unification Ministry.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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