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Fisherman kidnapped by North Korea escapes back to the South after 41 years in captivity

Man captured by North Korea in 1972 has returned home after 41 years

A 68-year-old sailor has returned to his home country after spending more than four decades of detention in North Korea, officials in Seoul say.

Jeon Wook-pyo was abducted age 27 while fishing near the Yellow Sea border on Korea’s west coast – a maritime territory that has been disputed by North and South Korea since the close of the Korean War in 1953.

Technically the two countries remain at war after the 1950-3 conflict ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

24 other fishermen were also captured on the day of Mr Jeon’s abduction in 1972; nothing is currently known of their whereabouts.

Mr Jeon escaped the North via an undisclosed third country – thought to be China – where he there sent a letter to South Korean President Park Geun-hye calling for her help in bringing him home.

In the letter, later released to the press, Mr Jeon said: “I took a chance to escape the North because I had a growing wish to spend the rest of my life with my relatives and brothers at home.”

A government official confirmed Mr Jeon’s return, saying he would be returned home to his family following an investigation from security authorities.

South Korea say around 500 of its citizens – mostly fishermen – have been abducted in the six decades since the conflict.  

South Koreans who do manage to return home are usually subjected to questioning and a thorough screening process to check they are not working for North Korea’s espionage forces.

Tensions between the two countries have cooled in recent months, having neared crisis point in April when North Korea warned foreigners to leave South Korea before they launched a nuclear strike on their southern neighbours.

Concerns were raised earlier in the week, however, when images came to light suggesting North Korea had resumed work on a nuclear production plant.