SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry said Monday that government agencies consulted closely with each other before deciding to expel two North Korean fishermen accused of killing 16 fellow crew members, denying a media report that the decision was made solely by the presidential office.
A local daily newspaper earlier reported that the presidential National Security Office made the deportation decision last week as relevant government agencies such as the unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs and the National Intelligence Service were hesitant to provide their opinions in the process.
"As a control tower, Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office acted in close consultation and communication with relevant ministries and agencies," Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing.
On Thursday, the two North Koreans in their 20s were sent back to the North through the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, five days after they were captured near the eastern sea border while fleeing authorities.
They later confessed that they and another crew member killed the captain of the fishing boat out of anger over his abuse before later killing the remaining crew members one by one. A third person was arrested in the North while trying to sneak back to their home country.
The North Koreans expressed an intent to defect but the government earlier said that it determined not to respect their request on the belief that they had crossed into the South in order only to flee arrest.
Critics have said that the decision to expel the North Koreans was made hastily without sufficient investigation and with little physical evidence to back up their testimonies at a time when they will be faced with harsh punishment in the communist state.
The spokesperson reiterated the government's stance, saying that the North Koreans deported last year are not subject to protection as they are "non-political" serious criminals and their acceptance as refugees could pose a danger to the lives and safety of citizens here.
Thursday's deportation was the first of its kind since the 1950-53 Korean War. South Korea usually accepts North Koreans as defectors if they want to resettle here to avoid oppression and poverty, and it repatriates those who want to return home, having, for instance, drifted to the South in a fishing vessel.
On Friday, South Korea sent the North Koreans' boat to the North through the eastern inter-Korean sea border.