South Korea has expelled two fishermen suspected of killing 16 people on a North Korean fishing boat in the Sea of Japan.
The two North Koreans, both men in their 20s, were captured in their boat south of the countries' eastern sea border on November 2, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.
The move to deport them is highly unusual, as South Korea has a policy of accepting North Koreans who want to resettle in the South to avoid political oppressions and poverty at home.
The North and South do not have an extradition agreement but the South chose to return the two through the border village of Panmunjom.
When the 15 diversified crew individuals protested, they had been then additionally killed one after the other, per Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
"They called out the others by twos every 40 minutes on the pretext of changing shifts and methodically slaughtered them with a blunt weapon and threw the bodies into the water", the paper reported. "For more than 20 years, the South Korean government and the people of South Korea, the taxpayers of South Korea, have extended help and naturalization programs to about 33,000 North Koreans", said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). The three returned to North Korea after committing the crimes but one of them was captured by North Korean authorities.
A South Korean government source revealed the plan earlier, prompting an angry response from the North, which views all allied exercises as an invasion rehearsal regardless of their scope.
He added that they could not be recognised as refugees under global laws.
Joo Seong-ha, a prominent North Korean defector-turned journalist who lives in Seoul, supports the decision to deport the fishermen.
North Korea's state media has made no mention of the pair. "Even though the facts that constitute the crime are obvious, South Korea should have subjected them to judicial proceedings in South Korea". "I think the [South Korean government] offered them up to North Korea as a sacrifice, since North Korea is so adamant about the Mt. Kumgang issue", said Jung, referring to Kim Jong Un's recent order to demolish South Korean buildings at an inter-Korean tourist resort.
They were treated as criminals - rather than defectors - and sent back.
The allies suspended or scaled back several exercises past year in the wake of the first summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018.
The majority of North Koreans escape through China. That is down from a peak of 2,914 in 2009.