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NK repatriates S. Korean citizen via Panmunjom

North Korea on Tuesday returned a South Korean citizen who illegally crossed the border on July 22 to enter the communist country, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said Tuesday.

North Korea repatriated a 34-year-old South Korean citizen surnamed Seo through the truce village of Panmunjom at around 11 a.m., the ministry said. The North sent a notice to the South on Monday, alerting it of its plan to return Seo.


Seo’s intention in entering North Korea without notifying the Seoul government is yet unknown. He is under investigation by the South’s authorities, while an informed source claimed that he left for China before July 22.

The South Korean government views North Korea’s decision to return its citizen as “positive from a humanitarian perspective,” the ministry said.

While there are approximately 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, according to government data, the Seoul government acknowledged the lack of similar data for South Koreans who willingly defected to the North.

In the recent decade, North Korea has often repatriated South Koreans who illegally came to the country, which critics see as a message for the Seoul government to do the same for its citizens that defected to the South.

North Korea has recently ramped up its request for the repatriation of 12 restaurant workers that arrived in South Korea in 2016, after the male manager who accompanied the women told a local broadcaster in May that the South’s spy agency had orchestrated the mass “defection.”

Six South Korean nationals, including three missionaries, remain detained in the North.

Failed defections to the North have led to fatalities in the past as a South Korean civilian who attempted to defect to the North was shot and killed by a South Korean solider in 2013. 

By Jung Min-kyung (