November 08, 2019 10:05
Two North Koreans who drifted into South Korean waters after apparently killing 16 fellow crewmembers on a fishing boat were deported to North Korea on Thursday.
Their deportation only became public when a text message to Cheong Wa Dae official Kim Yu-geun was accidentally caught on camera while he was checking it. The text message, from the commander of an Army battalion in the Joint Security Area reads, "We're going to repatriate North Koreans who reached Samcheok, [Gangwon Province] on Nov. 2."
The entire grisly saga had been kept under wraps.
After some delay, the Unification Ministry revealed the outcome of its investigation once they had been handed over to North Korean authorities in the border truce village of Panmunjom.
Authorities here questioned the two men after catching them in South Korean waters as they fled across the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea on Nov. 2, ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said.
Investigators found out that the two, who are in their 20s, "had taken flight after killing their fellow crewmembers on a squid fishing boat in the East Sea," he added.
The 17-ton squid fishing boat left the North's Kimchaek port on Aug. 15 with a crew of 19. Three of them bore a grudge against the captain, who had mistreated them. They hatched a conspiracy to kill him while most of the other crew were sleeping in the cabin one night at the end of October.
The young men told investigators they decided to kill the other 15 crewmembers as well because they feared they would be punished for the murder if any witnesses were left alive. They called out the others by twos every 40 minutes on the pretext of changing shifts and methodically slaughtered them with a blunt weapon and threw the bodies into the water.
Investigators found no conclusive evidence of the murders, the dead bodies, nor any indirect evidence including bloodstains.
After the killings, the three young men returned to Kimchaek port, where one of them was arrested while the other two managed to flee on the boat. The two told investigators here that they wanted to defect South Korea, but on Nov. 5, the South Korean government sent a message to the North that they would be deported.
This is an unprecedented decision since North Koreans are in theory considered South Korean citizens under the Constitution and have the right to remain here if they want to defect.
The ministry spokesman said, "We deported them as we concluded that they are murderers who aren't subject to protection and criminals can't be recognized as refugees under international law." They were taken to Panmunjom under heavy police guard for fear that they would harm themselves to resist their deportation.
One North Korean defector said, "The government set a bad precedent by deporting them without due process and a trial under South Korean law."
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