A North Korean man sells contraband pickled eggs, cigarettes, alcohol and ginseng to Korean, Japanese and Chinese tourists on the Yalu River, north of Dandong, China's larger border city with North Korea (background), in Liaoning Province, on May 29. Two South Korean nationals who were detained at the border by North Korea authorities have been permitted to return home. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, June 15 (UPI) -- North Korea agreed to repatriate two South Korean nationals who were detained at the China-North Korea border in May.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said the surprise Monday announcement was sent from North Korea's Red Cross Society's central committee chairman, Yonhap reported.
The bulletin from North Korea read in translation, "The two South Korean nationals who illegally crossed into North Korea at the China border on May 11 will be returned on June 17."
South Korea replied to the North, and said the returned South Koreans are to be received at Panmunjom, the truce zone between the two Koreas, according to South Korean news media Newsis.
The returnees were travel companions, and identified only by their last names: a 59-year-old man with the surname Lee and a 51-year-old woman with the surname Jin.
South Korea confirmed Lee and Jin went missing together. After checking with special agencies, Seoul and the families of the missing confirmed their whereabouts.
The Unification Ministry said the returnees are to be inspected for health reasons upon their re-entry into South Korea.
South Korea said the North's move comes as a surprise. Repatriation of abducted or detained South Korean nationals has never witnessed such a quick turnaround, Seoul said, and called the announcement from the North "unprecedented."
A South Korea government source told Yonhap the announcement could be a gesture of reconciliation. Monday marked the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration between the two Koreas that called for peaceful relations.
South Korea had recently attempted to send a notice to North Korea demanding the release of 40,000 abducted South Koreans but North Korea has not confirmed receipt.