Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 14:57 UK

N Korea releases S Korean worker


The freed South Korean worker appears in public for the first time

North Korea has freed a South Korean worker detained for allegedly insulting the North's communist leadership.

The engineer, Yoo Seong-jin, was handed over to officials of his company, Hyundai Asan, and has since crossed back into South Korea.

Mr Yoo was arrested in March at a joint industrial zone near the border.

His release follows a visit to the North this week by the high-profile head of Hyundai Group, Hyun Jeong-eun, in an attempt to resolve the case.

North-South Korean relations have been severely strained in recent months.

"I am happy that I returned safely," Mr Yoo told reporters after arriving at a South Korean immigration control centre near the border.

"I gratefully appreciate all the efforts and concerns of the government, Hyundai Asan and [Korean] people."

He declined to answer questions and was whisked away in a black van.

The BBC's John Sudworth, in the South Korean capital, Seoul, says the release of Mr Yoo is seen as a sign that North Korea could be ready to take a more conciliatory approach towards its southern neighbour.

Mr Yoo's release comes just over a week after the North freed two US journalists following an unexpected visit by former US President Bill Clinton, who held talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.

Release welcomed

However, North Korea is still holding the four-man crew of a South Korean fishing vessel that was seized last month.

The North said the boat had "illegally intruded" into its waters, and has said it is investigating the incident.

On Thursday, dozens of protesters demonstrated in Seoul, calling for the release of Mr Yoo and the four fishermen.

Mr Yoo was detained in March at the joint factory zone in the Northern border town of Kaesong, accused of insulting the North's communist system.

Much of Hyundai's work inside the North was suspended after Mr Yoo was arrested.

About 100 South Korean firms use cheap Northern labour at factories in Kaesong.

A council of the firms welcomed Mr Yoo's release, saying it hoped the move would "improve frozen South-North relations and revitalise" the factory zone, the Associated Press news agency reported.

North and South Korea have never signed a peace treaty following their conflict in 1950-53 and are technically still at war.

Relations have worsened since the conservative President Lee Myung-bak was elected last year.

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