South Korea, Japan Still Pondering Defectors’ Fate

Posted September 14th, 2011 at 12:35 am (UTC-5)
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South Korean officials say they have not yet decided whether to take in nine North Korean defectors from Japan.

A spokeswoman at the Unification Ministry told VOA Wednesday that officials will hold discussions with their counterparts in Japan, where nine North Koreans were found in a wooden boat Tuesday morning. She said South Korea will act in a “humanitarian manner” toward the asylum seekers as soon as those consultations are completed.

Japanese officials said Wednesday they were still questioning the three men, three women and three children who were found in the eight-meter boat off Japan's western coast. News reports said the leader of the group told rescuers he had worked with the North Korean military and had fled with his family members hoping to reach South Korea.

Japanese authorities have not yet said whether they will allow the nine to go to South Korea, which normally opens its doors to North Korean refugees. However a previous group of four North Korean defectors who reached Japan in 2007 was allowed to go to South Korea.

Those four family members were the first North Korean defectors to reach Japan by boat in 20 years.