In an extremely unusual case, South Korea on Thursday deported two North Koreans after finding out they killed 16 fellow crew members on their boat then fled to South Korean waters, Seoul officials said. The two men in their 20s were sent back to the North through the truce village of Panmunjom on the border. “The government has decided to deport them as they have committed a heinous crime. They cannot be treated as refugees under international laws,” ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said. “They could also pose threats to the life and security of our people.” North Korea still carries out public executions, including by firing squad and hanging. North Korea demands Japan pay compensation for ‘gangster act’ of sinking fishing boat The two men were found south of the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border off South Korea ’s east coast on Saturday. They attempted to flee when the South’s Navy tried to capture them, officials said. They were then taken to a nearby port for questioning, the ministry said. The deportation took place after South Korea informed the North of its decision to send them back earlier this week, and the North subsequently agreed to it, the ministry said. The rare deportation occurred despite tensions between the two Koreas after denuclearisation talks stalled. South Korea has a policy of accepting North Koreans who want to resettle in the South to avoid political oppression and economic poverty at home. It is the first time the South has deported any North Korean national who has come to South Korea since the end of the Korean war, according to the Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korean affairs. How Pyongyang pressures defectors in South back to North Korea Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told the National Assembly on Thursday that the two deported men and another fellow sailor were involved in killing 16 fellow sailors, including the skipper of their fishing boat. Their boat with 19 crew members on board set sail off North Korea’s port of Kimchaek in August to catch squid fish off Russia. Acting out of anger against the abusive skipper, the three accused killed him and murdered the remaining 15 to cover up their first crime, according to the minister. The three men threw the bodies overboard and sailed towards Kimchaek to flee to the Chagang province near the Chinese border. After one of them was arrested by North Korean authorities near Kimchaek, the two others ran away toward the South. After being spotted by the South Korean navy, they attempted to abscond for two days despite warning shots from a South Korean navy vessel before being captured. A North Korean defector said it was “absolutely certain” that the two will be executed in the North. “The North will probably execute them in public as a message to potential defectors – even if you flee to the South, you will end up like this,” Eom Yeong-nam told the Post . North Korean fishing boats have occasionally drifted into South Korean waters, and South Korea has usually accepted those who chose to resettle and repatriated others who wished to return home. About 32,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the end of the Korean war, most of them via China and in the past two decades. North Korean defectors are a sore point in relations between the two Koreas, with the North often claiming its citizens are held against their will in the South.