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N Korea admits fishing boat seizure

North Korea has admitted that it seized a South Korean fishing boat more than a week ago and claimed the seven crewmen have admitted to fishing in its waters.

South Korea has been pushing for the release of the four South Korean and three Chinese fishermen it had said were seized along with the boat on August 8, but Pyongyang had not responded or acknowledged that it had the fishermen.

Officials, however, confirmed the seizure on Thursday, saying that its navy caught the boat illegally fishing in the communist country's eastern exclusive economic zone. The fishermen admitted their wrongdoing during a preliminary investigation, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

The fishermen are still under investigation, it added.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said he was aware of the KCNA report but noted Pyongyang had not sent a separate message on the seizure to South Korea.

The taking of the fishing boat comes as relations between the two countries are filled with contention over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March that has been blamed on North Korea. Pyongyang has denied responsibility.

Tensions rose again this week as South Korea and the US began annual joint military drills that North Korea has called a rehearsal for invasion and pledged to retaliate.

The computerised drills - which involve about 56,000 South Korean soldiers and 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and abroad - followed massive joint naval drills the allies conducted off the peninsula's east coast last month in response to the warship sinking.

South Korea and the US plan to conduct another major joint naval drill next month, this time off the peninsula's west coast where the warship Cheonan sank.

The Korean peninsula technically remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The US stations 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect its key ally.

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