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N.Korea Releases S.Korean Tourist

June 26, 1999

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ A South Korean tourist returned home Saturday after a six-day detention in North Korea that had threatened to chill thawing relations between the two Cold War-era foes.

Still accusing the woman of being an agent for the South, North Korea released her Friday evening in its first conciliatory gesture since last week’s naval skirmish heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Only hours after her release, however, the U.S. State Department said North Korea arrested an American on an apparent business trip nine days ago and was not granting consular access. The American was not identified.

Washington has no diplomatic ties with North Korea.

The South Korean tourist, Min Young-mi, 38, was handed over to the Hyundai Group, the South Korean conglomerate that sponsored the tour that she was on when she was taken into custody.

The woman was among some 600 South Koreans who arrived in North Korea by ship last Saturday for a tour of a scenic mountain. She was detained the next day after talking with a northern guide.

Her detention led South Korea to threaten to halt the tourism program, the biggest joint commercial venture between the rival Koreas and a prime source of scarce foreign currency for the North.

The two Koreas fought a naval gunbattle in a rich fishing ground off the west coast last week in which a northern torpedo boat was sunk and 30 North Korean sailors were believed killed.

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