SEOUL — Six South Korean men accused by rival North Korea of illegal entry returned home with the corpse of a woman across the Demilitarized Zone on Friday, an unexpected gesture seen in Seoul as an attempt to improve frayed relations and revive money-making projects.
Neither Seoul nor Pyongyang provided many details about the six men, who ranged in age from 27 to 67, or the body. But some media and analysts in Seoul considered the men’s release a conciliatory move after Pyongyang’s abrupt cancellation last month of emotional reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea said the South Korean woman died in a quarrel with her husband, one of the men who crossed the border, according to an official with the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs. The official said the claim would be investigated.
After crossing over the heavily armed border at the so-called truce village of Panmunjom, the men were handed over to South Korean intelligence officials to determine how they ended up in the North. It is a crime for South Koreans to travel to North Korea without government permission, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Before they were scrapped, the planned inter-Korean family reunions had been seen as an example of easing tensions between the rivals, who had begun diplomacy after trading threats of war in March and April.
The men’s return could also set up another push by Pyongyang for talks with a so-far resistant Seoul on resuming lucrative, jointly run tours to a North Korean mountain resort.