South Korea deports North Korea fishermen who killed 16 crew members

7 November 2019, 15:02 | Updated: 7 November 2019, 17:10

Two North Korean fishermen have been deported after they were found to have killed 16 fellow crew members on their boat and then fled to the South.

According to Seoul's Unification Ministry, the men from the secretive state, who are both thought to be in their 20s, were found and captured in their boat, south of the countries' shared eastern sea border on Saturday.

They were later found to have killed 16 of their fellow fishermen, including the captain.

It is thought there was 19 people on board the boat, which was squid fishing, when it left the Kimchaek port in North Korea.

South Korea usually accepts those who used to live north of its border who want to escape the political oppression and poverty at home, but this will be the first time in nearly 70 years that a North Korean national has been deported back to their home country.

Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min described the men as "heinous criminals", adding that they could not be seen as refugees under international law.

The boat was fishing in waters close to Russia when it is said the two men began collaborating with another crew member to kill the captain, who they said had abused them.

The three men later said they killed the other 15 men on the boat to cover up their actions.

They returned to their original port in the North, with the intention of moving to another region in the country - but the third fisherman was arrested close to the dock, so the other two left North Korea using the fishing boat, according to the Unification Ministry.

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The men were chased away by South Korean military when they crossed the sea border, who fired warning shots at them and eventually captured them two days later.

They asked if they could resettle in the country, claiming political asylum but authorities determined that they were trying to avoid being arrested in North Korea and have since been deported.

It is believed that around 32,000 people from North Korea have left the country since the end of the Korean War in 1953, with most of them in the last 20 years.

Fishing boats from North Korea have sometimes drifted south of the sea border, with South Korea usually accepting those who want to live there, while others have been repatriated.