North Korea has released 16 Chinese fishermen who were seized and held for ransom two weeks ago, state media has reported. The incident served as further source of tension between the neighbouring allies.
All 16 crew members were freed on Tuesday following their capture by armed North Koreans in Chinese waters on May 5, China's Xinhua news agency reported.
Ship owner Yu Xuejun confirmed that "all the fishermen with the boat are safe on their way back," the agency said, citing a Chinese embassy official in Pyongyang.
Yu, who wasn't onboard the privately owned boat at the time of its seizure, began publicizing the incident over the weekend as the Sunday deadline for a random neared. He said he had been unable to pay the 600,000 yuan (75,920 euros, $98,000) demanded by the captors and had requested aid from China's Foreign Ministry.
Chinese diplomats responded on Monday, calling for the men's immediate release. China state media said Chinese diplomats were negotiating with North Korean officials to "release the boat and the fishermen as soon as possible."
The incident has added to China's frustration with North Korea over its recent nuclear and missile tests. China has said it "firmly opposed" Pyongyang's latest atomic test in February which defied international efforts to curb the country's nuclear capabilities.
Reports that the crew had been mistreated have also caused outrage online in China with internet users calling on the government to take a tough stance on Pyongyang.
A similar abduction a year ago saw 29 Chinese abducted by armed North Koreans who demanded a 1.2 million yuan random. The men were later released following intervention from the Chinese foreign ministry.
ccp/hc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)