North Korea to repatriate rare South Korean defector

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea said on Friday it would send home a South Korean man who entered the country illegally, in a rare case of a defection to the impoverished communist state.

The man, identified as Mr Kim Sang Gun, was "intercepted" after entering the North illegally through a third country, North Korea's Red Cross Society said, according to state-run news agency KCNA.

It quoted Mr Kim as telling investigators that he had entered the North "after finding it difficult to live in South Korea", but did not say when he crossed over. "He frankly admitted his illegal entry into the DPRK (North Korea) and requested it to let him bring his family from the South so that he might live with them in the DPRK," KCNA said.

But North Korean officials have decided to send Mr Kim back to the South, it said, without explaining why Pyongyang is sending him home, apparently against his will. The North's Red Cross Society offered to repatriate him on Sept 11 through the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said on Friday that they have accepted the North's offer to return Mr Kim.

More than 26,000 North Koreans have escaped to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, but defections the other way are very rare.

The few defectors that North Korea does receive are usually allowed to remain in the secretive state.

Last year Pyongyang sent home six South Koreans who had entered the North illegally between 2009 and 2012.

However, it has rejected Seoul's repeated calls to free a South Korean missionary who was captured last year and sentenced to life in a labour camp for allegedly spying and operating an underground church.

The North views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest.

A number of missionaries - mostly United States citizens - have been arrested in the North in the past. Most have been allowed to return home, but three US citizens remain in detention.