The 31 North Koreans who arrived in South Korea by boat earlier this month will be sent home sometime this week, a Seoul official said Sunday.
“As far as I know, the joint interrogation (by relevant authorities) is in the final phase,” the official said. “And since no one expressed a wish to defect, we will repatriate all 31 of them as early as this week through Panmunjeom (the border village).”
On Feb. 5, 11 North Korean men and 20 women crossed the tense Yellow Sea border on a wooden fishing boat to arrive on Yeonpyeong Island, the same island shelled by North Korea last November. They were later towed away to the western port city of Incheon.
The Seoul official said the North Koreans’ boat will also be returned to the North.
“There are some procedures left to take care of, such as compiling the final report, but the repatriation won’t be past this week,” the official added.
A South Korean military official said once the joint interrogation is completed, the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs in Seoul, will be notified of the results, and the South Korean Red Cross will inform its North Korean counterpart of the repatriation.
Three days after the North Koreans’ arrival here, Pyongyang demanded their repatriation, and Seoul responded then that the decision was up to the 31 people who crossed the border.
The people arrived here just days before the two Koreas held what turned out to be fruitless military talks. It was their first dialogue since the North’s deadly artillery attack on Yeonpyeong.
More than 20,000 North Koreans have arrived in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.