SKorean Hyundai worker set free

SEOUL: North Korea Thursday freed a South Korean worker detained since March by the communist state, a South Korean official said.

The worker, identified as Yu Seong-Jin, a Hyundai Asan engineer, was handed over to officials from his company, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-Sung told reporters.

"The worker is expected to cross" the border at 7:00 pm (1000 GMT), he said.

The engineer worked at the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial estate for Hyundai Asan, the group subsidiary which handles business with the North.

The North detained Yu on March 30, accusing him of insulting its system and urging a northern worker to defect.

The release came as Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jung-Eun was in Pyongyang after extending her stay in the communist state.

She had crossed the land border Monday to discuss the release of her employee, days after former US president Bill Clinton went to Pyongyang to secure the freedom of two American journalists.

The release of the Hyundai engineer was the first conciliatory gesture to the South from the North since ties soured after Seoul's current conservative government took office in February 2008.

International tensions have risen following the North's latest nuclear and missile tests and a US-led drive for tougher sanctions.

However, North Korean officials signalled to Clinton that they want better relations, according to US officials.