Nine N.Koreans drift to the South in boat: government source

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2011 3:18 AM
Nine N.Koreans drift to the South in boat: government source

SEOUL (Reuters) - Nine people have drifted in a small boat from North Korea and are seeking asylum in the South, a government source said on Wednesday, in the latest incident that could keep ties between the rivals chilled.

Defections from the impoverished North to the wealthy South have led Pyongyang to blame Seoul for kidnapping people lost at sea and coercing them to stay, fueling confrontation.

North Korea protested vehemently in February when four defectors to the South stayed behind while 27 others were returned, accusing the South of forcing the four to remain against their will and aggravating already volatile relations between the two Koreas.

The nine people drifted south off the west coast last weekend and were picked up by South Korean authorities, the government source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The group included women and children, he said. They are being questioned by authorities.

The two Koreas remain technically at war under a truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Their ties sank to the lowest level in decades last year after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March. Seoul blames the North for the attack.

In November, the North bombarded a South Korean island off the west coast it what it said was retaliation for provocative military actions by the South. Attempts at dialogue since have failed.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)