South Korea says 4 North Koreans defect

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 3:53 PM
South Korea says 4 North Koreans defect

SEOUL (Reuters) - Four of the 31 North Koreans who drifted last month across a tensely guarded sea border between the rival Koreas have expressed their wish to defect and will not be sent back when the rest are repatriated Friday, the South said.

Such defections tend to anger the North, a tightly controlled society that restricts movement of people and flow of information to maintain a dynastic leadership's grip on power.

South Korea's Red Cross said 27 of the North Koreans and the vessel they sailed south off the peninsula's west coast on February 5 in thick fog before being picked up by South Korean military guards would be repatriated through land and sea borders on Friday.

Their boat was spotted near Yeonpyeong island, which lies just 11 km (7 miles) from the North's soil and had been bombarded in November by North Korean artillery, killing four people.

The incident, and the sinking of a South Korean navy ship last March, raised tensions on the peninsula to the highest level in decades.

The first attempt to restart dialogue broke down in February when military officials ended two days of meetings without agreement on meeting again. The South said it saw no sign the North was serious about talks.

Regional powers have nudged the rivals to defuse the crisis and restart international talks over the North's nuclear program. The two Koreas are still technically at war because an armistice, not a treaty, ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)