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S Korea returns North fisherman, holds two others

South Korea on Tuesday repatriated a North Korean fisherman but rejected Pyongyang's demands to return two others picked up by the coastguard at the weekend.

SEOUL: South Korea on Tuesday repatriated a North Korean fisherman but rejected Pyongyang's demands to return two others picked up by the coastguard at the weekend.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said the repatriation took place at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The fishermen were picked up Saturday by a coastguard vessel off the east coast of South Korea, and the North quickly demanded the immediate return of all three as well as their boat.

But Seoul said two of the fishermen had expressed a wish to stay in the South and would be kept in custody for questioning.

A Unification Ministry spokesman said there was "no word or protest" from North Korea when the third fisherman was handed over at the border.

South Korea's policy is to send back North Korean fishing boats and their crew if they stray across the disputed maritime border -- unless they seek to defect.

Hundreds of North Koreans flee hunger and repression in their isolated homeland each year.

Most cross into China and then a third country such as Thailand before coming to the South. Defections across the sea or land border between the two Koreas are rare.

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