'Spy ship' row mars Korea rice diplomacy



South Korea's hopes that the way to better relations with its northern compatriots would be through their stomachs were dashed yesterday when it was announced that Pyongyang had seized a ship delivering free rice and charged the crew with spying.

Seoul's Vice Unification Minister, Song Yong-Dae, confirmed that the North Korean government had also cancelled North-South rice talks that were due to reconvene in Peking today. "This is an unforeseen incident. So it is hard to link it with inter-Korean relations in general," he said.

Rumours that North Korea was suffering serious food shortages were confirmed at the end of May when a Pyongyang trade official on a visit to Tokyo asked Japan to lend his country rice because of bad harvests. In the event, both Japan and South Korea offered rice aid, and shipments started in June. So far, Seoul has sent about half the 150,000 tons it promised, while Tokyo has sent 100,000 of a planned 300,000 tons.

Seoul was hoping that food aid might lead to a breakthrough in relations and there were expectations that the South might unveil a new initiative on 15 August, the 50th anniversary of Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War. Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula ended with its defeat by the allies.

Last night it was not clear how great a threat the ship's seizure posed to North-South dialogue. Mr Song said the Samsun Venus had unloaded 5,000 tons of rice at the port of Chongjin but since Sunday had been barred from leaving.

The crew of 21 had been detained on charges of spying, including the navigation officer, Lee Yang-Chon, who had allegedly taken photographs of the port and carried out "systematic spying activities and provocations". In a message to Seoul on Tuesday, Pyongyang said Mr Lee had confessed.

Mr Song denied that the crew had been spying, and demanded their return. He urged non-official contact before 15 August to sort out the incident, but said further rice shipments to the North would be suspended for the time being.

Relations between North and South Korea have suffered other setbacks in recent months. In May, North Korea seized a fishing boat with nine crewmen, and has refused to return it. In June, Seoul accused the North of kidnapping a South Korean missionary near the North's northern border with China; Pyongyang claimed he defected, and in July, the South detained thewidow of a South Korean dissident, Park Yong Gil, after she illegally visited the North.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power