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29 Chinese fishermen held hostage by N. Koreans
Publication Date : 18-05-2012
Rare spat between allies as gunboat crew demands ransom for abducted fishermen
China has been striving to rescue 29 Chinese fishermen kidnapped by an unidentified North Korean gunboat, as the hostages faced death threats in a rare public spat between the two communist neighbours.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday that "China is maintaining close contact with North Korea through the relevant channels, and we hope this problem will be appropriately solved as soon as possible".
Three Chinese fishing boats operating in the Yellow Sea between China and North Korea were seized on May8. The captors first demanded payment of 1.2 million yuan (US$189,708) from the boat owners, then cut the price to 900,000 yuan ($142,281), Chinese media said. They threatened to "deal with" the hostages if they did not receive the payment by yesterday.
The Chinese government did not comment on the payment and there is no report of the fishermen being killed as of midnight last night.
The kidnappers, whose identities remain unclear, demanded that the payment be made in Dandong city in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea, reported Chongqing Morning Post yesterday. Chinese media speculated that the seizure could be a conspiracy by some North Korean officials and organised gangs in Dandong.
Zhang Decheng, who owns one of the seized boats, said the three fishing boats were captured at gunpoint while trawling in Chinese waters. He believed the boats were being held in North Korea. "The hijackers were holding guns. No one dared resist. The fishermen are now being locked in a tiny house with no food."
He received a call on May 9 from the kidnapped skipper. He was also given a Chinese cellphone number and asked to discuss with the phone owner about delivering the payment.
Zhang Liangui from China's Central Party School said Beijing tends to play down disputes with its ally Pyongyang. "But the Chinese fishermen are in danger this time if North Korea denies the incident," he was quoted by Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao as saying. "If North Korea, under China's pressure, is willing to defuse the tension, it would make an announcement soon and declare that the hijack was done by outlaws."