Seoul: North Korea said on Monday it was releasing the seven-man crew of a South Korean fishing boat, including three Chinese, after they illegally entered its waters last month.
State news agency KCNA said the crew would be sent back to South Korea "taking into consideration the fact that they admitted the seriousness of their act and gave assurances that they would never repeat such an act”.
Tensions have mounted on the peninsula this year after the sinking of a South Korean warship -- Seoul says it was sunk by a North Korean torpedo -- and a series of military drills by the United States and South Korea.
Pyongyang said the boat was intercepted on August 08 while fishing in waters off its east coast.
In June, Beijing took a public swipe at Pyongyang after North Korean border guards shot and killed three Chinese suspected of smuggling and wounded a fourth. North Korea apologised and told China it would punish those responsible.
China had voiced concern about the detention of its nationals by the North, which depends heavily on Beijing`s largesse to keep its impoverished economy afloat.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made a surprise visit to China last week to reassure Beijing, whose help and diplomatic muscle he needs as much as ever to support a dynastic succession.
Tensions have heightened in recent months, with the US and South Korean militaries staging a series of joint exercises near the North Korean maritime border in response to the sinking of the Cheonan corvette which killed 46 sailors.
In August, the North fired a barrage of artillery shells in response to a South Korean drill off the west coast.