North Korea Releases Detained South Korean Citizen

North Korea released a detained South Korean citizen on Tuesday, in a rare humanitarian gesture that was welcomed by the South Korean government, The New York Times reported.

The returnee was handed over to the South Korean authorities through Panmunjom, a contact point on the border between the two countries, the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement. The 34-year-old man, identified only by his last name, Seo, was arrested in North Korea for illegal entry on July 22.

The man will probably face criminal charges in South Korea because of a national law that bars citizens from visiting the North without government permission, The Times adds. Although more than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea in the past three decades, it is rare for South Koreans to enter North Korea illegally, and at the same time highly unusual.

In 2015, North Korea returned a South Korean student, then attending New York University, who had been held for months on charges of illegally entering the North from China. In 2014, it returned a South Korean man who fled to the North to escape personal economic difficulties.

Tuesday’s repatriation came as the North is mounting pressure on South Korea to return those citizens it says are being held in the South against their will – as two North Koreans, Kim Ryen-hi and Kwon Chol-nam, are campaigning for their repatriation to the North, saying that their decisions to defect were mistakes.

Pyongyang is also demanding the return of 12 waitresses who arrived in South Korea in 2016 in a group defection. While Seoul maintains that they defected of their own free will, their manager, who led the women to the South, later claimed he was blackmailed into taking them against their will.

Meanwhile, the widening gulf between U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s description of nuclear talks with North Korea and Pyongyang’s criticism of his efforts is adding further confusion to the status of negotiations intended to achieve the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Bloomberg reports.

North Korean officials and state media have in recent weeks repeatedly rebutted Pompeo’s characterization of events and suggested the administration has a myopic focus on denuclearization while ignoring issues, such as bringing about a final resolution of the Korean War.

The latest broadside came after Pompeo said he had a “quick, polite exchange” with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings last week in Singapore. Pompeo brought Ri a letter from Trump to Kim during the chat and said later that he’s “optimistic that we will get this done.”

The official mouthpiece of Kim’s Workers’ Party, the Rodong Sinmun, published an editorial Monday titled: “U.S. Will Get Nothing With Its ‘Pressure Diplomacy’.”

“Everything in the future will be decided depending on how much the U.S. will attach importance to the trust and respect, escaping from the old view on ‘sanctions and pressure’,” the paper said, in an editorial also published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

That piece echoed the rhetorical gap that emerged after Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang last month. The secretary of state described that visit as “productive” and undertaken “in good faith.” North Korea called the U.S. strategy “cancerous” and the secretary of state’s demands as “gangster-like.”

As Pompeo’s public descriptions of his work increasingly contradict North Korea’s, the question is what it will take for the U.S. to decide to close that door, and whether the familiar tensions between the two sides will return or even intensify, Bloomberg adds.

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