Nine North Koreans defected by sea to South Korea over the weekend, an official said Wednesday, in a development expected to complicate already-tense relations between the nations.
The North Koreans on a small boat crossed into South Korean waters off the peninsula's disputed western sea border on Saturday, the South Korean official said, requesting anonymity because Seoul wasn't officially confirming the defections.
The North Koreans _ three men, two women and four children _ said they want to resettle in South Korea, the official said. Government investigators were still questioning them to find out the exact reasons they left the North, the official said.
The official gave no further details. But Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified South Korean government source, reported the defectors two North Korean brothers from Hwanghae Province and their families.
Defections are a sore point in relations between the Koreas, which are still technically at war because their conflict in the 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The North often claims that its citizens are held against their will in the South, with officials pressuring them to defect. South Korea says the defectors come because of economic suffering in the North.
Two North Korean army majors were sentenced to prison in South Korea last year for plotting to assassinate a high-profile defector. North Korea claimed the South staged the arrests to stoke public anger against the North.
Earlier this year, the North was furious when four of 31 North Koreans who were on a boat that drifted into southern waters refused to return home.
South Korea has a policy of accepting North Koreans who choose to defect and repatriating those who wish to return home. More than 21,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea since the Korean War, with many of them claiming they were running from hunger and political oppression.
The latest defections come as North Korea is threatening to attack South Korea to protest troops' use of photos of Pyongyang's ruling family as targets during firing drills. The threat has rekindled tension, which spiked last year due to two deadly attacks blamed on Pyongyang, which killed 50 South Koreans.
North Korea's state media didn't immediately react to the latest defections.
Associated Press writer So Yeon Kwon contributed to this report.