Fishermen are bait for Korean rice aid

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The Independent Online

of Associated Press

Seoul - Five South Korean fishermen, caught in a political tug-of-war for nearly seven months, made an emotional return home yesterday after being freed by North Korea.

The release appeared to be a gesture by the impoverished North to improve relations, which could set the stage for the Communist country to seek more rice aid from the South.

Dressed in suits, the men looked healthy as they crossed the Military Demarcation Line at 4 pm after shaking hands with North Korean military officials and waving farewell. "Thank you; we cannot forget your hospitality," one shouted.

The cremated remains of three crewmen were handed over to South Korean Red Cross representatives. After medical checks, the survivors were reunited with weeping relatives outside the South Korean border village of Panmunjom. One survivor, Park Jae Yol, said: "I never thought I would get back home alive." The fishermen said they had been interrogated but not mistreated.

Seoul shipped 50,000 tons of rice earlier this year but halted deliveries in October after President Kim Young Sam failed to secure the release of the boat and its crew.