S.Korea expels two North Koreans suspected of killing 16 fishermen

Seoul says two North Koreans deported after they fled to the South for killing 16 people

A senior North Korean official said on Wednesday that the announcement was equivalent to a "declaration for confrontation" that could jeopardize the diplomatic process, AFP reports.

South Korea deported two North Koreans accused of murdering 16 fellow fishermen on Thursday after the pair had fled south from their homeland. But North Korea still sees the drills' intent as an invasion rehearsal and often has reacted to the exercises strongly, especially when talks are stalled.

In late October, the three men returned to port in North Korea to sell the squid they'd caught. but when one of them was arrested, . the other two chose to flee.

Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said South Korea made a decision to expel the two fishermen to North Korea because they were "heinous criminals" who could not be recognized as refugees under global laws. Neither can they be regarded as refugees under global law because they are vicious criminals.

North Korea has condemned a planned military exercise between South Korea and the United States as "extremely provocative" and a "dangerous act", warning that its patience is limited and dialogue with the U.S.is on the "verge of extinction".

Observers say the men are likely to receive heavy punishment in North Korea, including possible execution.

The two men, both in their 20s, breached the inter-Korean maritime frontier off the east coast into the South aboard a squid fishing boat on Saturday and South Korean authorities detained them for questioning, ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said. Their fishing boat will be sent back at a later date. The trio later killed 15 other fishermen on the boat to cover up their action.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said at a separate parliamentary meeting the two North Koreans once expressed their willingness to defect, but there was no consistency in their statements. South Korean officials told the Yonhap News Agency the drills will be conducted at a smaller scale compared with previous years.

Aside from the accusations of murder, the case is unusual in that it is the first time Seoul has returned any North Koreans trying to flee the nation since the Korean War, which ended in 1953, according to the Associated Press.

About 32,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the end of the Korean War, a lot of them via China and in the past two decades.

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