Nine North Korean defectors found three weeks ago on a small wooden boat off the coast of Japan were brought Tuesday to South Korea for resettlement, officials said.
The three men, three women and three boys arrived at Incheon International Airport near Seoul, after Tokyo decided to honor their wishes to be sent to South Korea.
South Korean television footage showed the defectors wearing sunglasses, masks and hoods in an apparent attempt to conceal their identifies to protect the safety of their families left behind in the North. Those family members could be punished because of their relatives' defections.
South Korean officials planned to interview the North Koreans about their defection before placing them in a 12-week resettlement education course, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.
Also Tuesday, two other North Koreans were found aboard a wooden boat just south of the eastern sea border between the two Koreas. South Korea's navy towed the boat to South Korean shores, and officials were investigating whether the North Koreans intended to defect or simply drifted south, according to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
More than 21,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War, with most crossing over the North's porous border with China or drifting in boats over the Koreas' western and eastern sea borders. Defections through Japan are rare.