South Korea Rejects North’s Demand to Return Two Defectors

Posted October 6th, 2011 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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South Korea is refusing to send two North Korean men back to their native country, saying the pair want to defect from the isolated regime.

The men were found this week drifting off the coast of South Korea in a small boat. North Korea demanded their return Wednesday, but Seoul rejected that demand Thursday, saying it will honor the duo's wishes.

Nine North Koreans arrived in Seoul Tuesday from Japan, where they were found in a small boat last month. The nine said they were carried off course while trying to defect to the South.

Meanwhile, a group of South Korean officials has gone to China to urge Beijing not to repatriate 35 North Korean refugees arrested in China last week. A South Korean rights group says the refugees have been sent to a camp in northeast China to await deportation.

Hundreds of North Koreans defect to the South each year to escape economic hardship and repression. Many of them make it to South Korea after crossing the North's border with China. More than 21,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The recent defections are likely to anger North Korea and possibly aggravate the recent cross-border tensions.