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6 detained South Koreans return from North

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

SEOUL — Six South Korean men accused by North Korea of illegal entry — and a woman's corpse — returned home across the Demilitarized Zone on Friday, an unexpected gesture thought by Seoul to be an attempt to improve frayed relations and revive money-making projects.

Pyongyang said the men, who ranged from 27 to 67, had illegally entered North Korea, and that the South Korean woman died in a quarrel with her husband, one of the men who had crossed the border, according to an official with the South's Unification Ministry. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said the claim would be investigated.

Although officials did not talk about the men's identities or motivations, some speculation in Seoul focused on the possibility that they were Christian missionaries — many of whom help defectors along the China-North Korea border.

The men were handed over to South Korean intelligence officials to determine how they ended up in the North. It's a crime for South Koreans to travel to the North without government permission.

South Koreans occasionally try to enter the North, but many more North Koreans defect to the South because of poverty or political persecution.

Seoul estimates that hundreds of South Koreans have been kidnapped and detained by North Korea since the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

Some analysts in Seoul considered the men's release to be conciliatory: Pyongyang's abruptly canceled last month reunions of families separated by the war.

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