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Stray South Korea fishing boat held in North
Wed Jul 29, 2009 10:46pm EDT
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By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea towed a South Korean fishing boat to one of its ports on Thursday after the vessel inadvertently strayed into its territorial waters, a South Korean military official said.
The incident, probably the result of a broken navigational system, comes at a time of chilling relations between the two and an increasingly militant North that analysts say is in the midst of a sensitive process of resolving the leadership succession in Asia's only communist dynasty.
The South has asked its neighbor to allow the vessel and its crew of four to return, but officials said they have so far had no reply.
The boat appears to have strayed across the border on the east coast of the peninsula where it was intercepted by a North Korean patrol boat, the military official said.
Earlier news reports said the boat had been captured by a North Korean patrol, but an official with the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North's vessel never crossed the border into the South.
"It is not likely a case of a North Korean vessel venturing into the South and capturing the ship," he said.
The news gave a lift to South Korean defense company shares but otherwise financial markets largely ignored the latest potential rift in relations, with analysts saying investors were unlikely to be fazed by anything less than direct military confrontation.
"I don't think South Korea's country risk will be heightened further unless we see more drastic actions taken, such as a military clash," said Park Suk-hyun, market analyst at KTB Securities in Seoul.
North Korea, already a pariah state, has become even more isolated by the international community in recent months after a series of missile launches and its second nuclear test which resulted in tighter U.N. sanctions.
It has also been infuriated by the South Korean conservative government's ending of what was once free-flowing aid until Pyongyang ends its attempts to build a nuclear arsenal.
Pyongyang argues that in the face of a hostile United States, which has close to 28,000 troops on South Korean soil, it has no choice but to build a nuclear deterrent.
But many analysts say the latest grandstanding has more to do with leader Kim Jong-il's desire to win greater support from his military and help secure the succession for his third son, Jong-un.
The question of succession has suddenly looked more urgent after the 67-year-old iron ruler suffered what many believe to have been a stroke almost a year ago. Recent photographs show Kim looking haggard and frail.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was formerly South Korea's foreign minister, said he was willing to visit the North Korea to defuse tensions. Continued...
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