The chairwoman of the board of South Korea’s giant Hyundai company had travelled to Pyongyang to request that the man be freed. Hyundai also hopes to be allowed to re-open a large South Korean resort, also on North Korean territory. It was closed after a South Korean tourist left the resort, ended up in a restricted military area and was shot dead by North Korean border guards.

The release of the factory worker is the first goodwill gesture Pyongyang has made to South Korea since conservative President Lee Myung-bak came to power there last year. He made aid to North Korea conditional on reductions in the military threat posed by the regime in Pyongyang.