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North Korea frees South Korean prisoner

North Korea has freed a South Korean man who had been arrested last month after crossing the border into the North, as Pyongyang and Seoul continue to build a relationship.

“Our side received a South Korean national surnamed Seo, born in 1984, through Panmunjom from the North at 11:00 am (0200 GMT)” on Tuesday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said, referring to the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries.

According to the statement, Seoul was informed of Pyongyang’s decision to release the man — who had been detained on July 22 — on Monday.

“The government positively appreciates the repatriation… which was made on humanitarian grounds,” the ministry added without elaborating.

The recently-released man was currently being interrogated by South Korean authorities, Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified ministry official as saying.

“We have to investigate to know why he went to the North and how he got there,” the official said.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have significantly eased since January this year, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed interest in the betterment of relations with South Korea. Vigorous diplomacy soon followed, and Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in then met in a historic summit in April.

South Korean officials have been pushing for the repatriation of six other citizens — including three Christian missionaries — believed to have been held for years in North Korea.

The Unification Ministry said they believed Seo’s release was a positive sign.

In May, North Korea released three American detainees in an apparent goodwill gesture before a June summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in Singapore.

The US has been negotiating with North Korea to have the Asian country denuclearize.

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