SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea said Friday it will send back a South Korean man who entered the North illegally, in an apparent conciliatory gesture.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Kim Sang-geun entered North Korea through a third country after having unspecified difficulties living in the South. It said Kim asked to live in North Korea and bring his family members from the South but the country decided to repatriate him next Thursday.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement it has informed North Korea that it will take custody of Kim.
About 27,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea to avoid poverty and political suppression since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but South Koreans defecting to North Korea are uncommon.
Kim's repatriation suggests that impoverished North Korea is still interested in improving ties with South Korea, said Chang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. In the past North Korea has been accused of using foreigners who crossed its borders as a propaganda tool by bringing false espionage and other charges against them.
In recent months North Korea has proposed a set of measures it says would reduce tension, but South Korea has rebuffed the overture, arguing that North Korea must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament. Outside analysts say the North is pushing for better ties with South Korea to help attract foreign investment and aid to revive its economy.
In May, North Korea sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to hard labor for life for allegedly spying and trying to set up underground churches. Three Americans are also being detained in North Korea for alleged hostile acts and other charges.
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