Officials say Japan has granted temporary refuge to nine suspected North Korean defectors who were found in a small wooden boat off Japan's western coast.
They say the defectors _ three men, three women and three boys _ were given temporary landing permits and were flown Wednesday to an immigration office where authorities are considering their request to be sent to South Korea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura hinted that the government is leaning toward granting the group's request.
North Korean defections to Japan are rare. The last two reported cases were in 2007 and 1987. North Korean defectors typically cross into China or take boats directly to South Korea.