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(LEAD) N. Korea to free fishermen on captured S. Korean boat
By Sam Kim
SEOUL, Sept. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Monday it will release the South Korean fishing boat and its seven crew members captured nearly a month ago off the east coast for violating the communist state's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

   The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the decision to release the 55 Daesung has been made "from the compatriotic and humanitarian points of view."

   Referring to the four South Korean and three Chinese crew members, the KCNA said the fishermen admitted to having trespassed in the EEZ in the East Sea, calling it "an intolerable infringement upon the sovereignty" of North Korea.

   "But it was decided to send the boat and its crew back to South Korea from the compatriotic and humanitarian points of view, taking into consideration the fact that they admitted the seriousness of their act" and promised they woud not "repeat such act," the KCNA said.

   The squid fishing boat disappeared Aug. 8 while operating in the East Sea. The South has repeatedly urged the North to release it, sending messages in the name of the Red Cross, which is Seoul's main channel on humanitarian issues involving North Korea.

   "It is fortunate" that the North decided to release the boat, Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry, told reporters. The ministry said in a statement that the North has notified the South that it will hand over the boat at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at the maritime border in the East Sea.

   The decision to release the boat came ahead of the North's largest political meeting in 30 years. It also came about a week after the South's Red Cross offered to send 10 billion won (US$ 8.4 million) in flood aid to help the North recover from heavy flooding that ravaged parts of the country last month.

   On Sunday, a high-level South Korean official also said that his government could allow civilian relief groups to send rice to North Korea as disaster aid. The staple has been blocked from being shipped to the communist neighbor since early 2008 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office with a policy linking food aid to the North's efforts in denuclearization.

   That policy froze the inter-Korean relations. Military tension also remains high on the divided peninsula after South Korea blamed the North in May for the sinking of its warship that killed 46 sailors.

   South and North Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

   samkim@yna.co.kr
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