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Seoul rejects N Korea demand for fishermen’s return

South Korea has rejected Pyongyang's demands to return two of the three North Korean fisherman picked up by its coastguard on Saturday.

SEOUL: South Korea has rejected Pyongyang's demands to return two of the three North Korean fisherman picked up by its coastguard on Saturday.

The latest incident could further prickle already sensitive inter-Korean relations.

Meanwhile, the commander of US troops stationed in South Korea has proposed deploying an advanced missile-defence system to the country to counter the growing threat of North Korea's weapons capabilities.

While one North Korean fisherman of the three was repatriated through the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, his two colleagues remained in the South, having chosen political asylum.

This is expected to further hurt inter-Korean relations as North Korea had demanded the handover of all three men.

There had been hopes that ties between the two Koreas would improve -- particularly after Pyongyang's announcement it would participate in the Asian Games to be held in Incheon, South Korea in September.

"North Korea's decision to participate can be seen as a signal as North Korea is indirectly showing its intention to improve relations between South and North Korea," said Kim Yong Hyun, Professor of North Korean Studies, Dongguk University.

Cross-border relations are at one of its lowest points in years.

Both countries have exchanged fire at the sea border, and have accused each other of continuing to incite provocations.

There are also rising concerns that North Korea may launch its fourth nuclear test.

Pyongyang has had a history of carrying out missile tests -- a reason why the United States has suggested deploying an advance missile-defence system called the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) to South Korea.

"I wouldn't know if I'd call it a study, but there's consideration being taken in order to consider THAAD being deployed here in Korea,” said General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander US Forces in South Korea. “It was a US initiative."

But Gen Scaparrotti says no decision has been reached on this system, designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles.

He also dismissed concerns this could raise tension in the region, especially with China.

"With regards to threats in the region, I would say this is a defensive system centred on the defence of the Republic of Korea,” said Gen Scaparrotti.

South Korea's Defence Ministry says it was aware this option was being studied by the US, and would review the proposal once Washington formally proposes it.

Experts in the South have said that these discussions, once initiated, would take time and possibly run into obstacles -- particularly as South Korea is developing its own independent anti-missile system.
 

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