South Korea arrests man 'motivated by poverty' who tried to defect to North Korea

North Koreans sit along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong on June 25, 2014. A South Korean man who tried to defect to North Korea by crossing into it through the river
North Koreans sit along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong on June 25, 2014. A South Korean man who tried to defect to North Korea by crossing into it through the river border with China has been formally arrested after North Korea sent him back to South Korea. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean man repatriated by North Korea after an apparent defection attempt has been formally arrested for breaking the South's strict national security law, the police said on Monday.

Kim Sang Gun, 52, was charged with violating the law's ban on illegal or unauthorised travel to the North, the police in Kim's home province of Gyeonggi said in a statement.

Kim flew to Beijing and then crossed the river border between China and North Korea on Aug 9, the statement said, adding he had told interrogators he was motivated by poverty. According to the South's Yonhap news agency, Kim was unemployed and recently divorced from his wife.

He was repatriated last week through the border truce village of Panmunjom. 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.

In the past, the few defectors that crossed into North Korea were usually allowed to remain.

The North announced on Sept 5 that it would repatriate Kim, but did not say why.

In an unusual move last year, Pyongyang sent home six South Koreans who had entered the North between 2009 and 2012.