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Four suspected North Korean defectors found in boat in South Korean waters

The family was found by a South Korean coast guard ship south of the sea border with North Korea.

The family was found by a South Korean coast guard ship south of the sea border with North Korea. Photo: AP

Four North Koreans have been found in a small wooden boat in South Korean waters in what is believed to be a rare case of citizens taking a risky sea voyage to flee the country.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea to avoid poverty and political oppression since the late 1990s. A vast majority of them have come via a land route with China, and defecting by sea is uncommon because it’s more dangerous.

A South Korean coast guard ship found the boat south of the two Koreas’ eastern sea border on Tuesday morning, after a report by a fishing boat. The four people on board identified themselves as North Koreans, coast guard officials said.

South Korea’s military said it secured the custody of the North Koreans in co-ordination with the coast guard, after chasing their boat along the sea border. A military statement said the North Koreans were suspected of defecting to South Korea but gave no further details.

South Korean public broadcaster KBS, citing an unidentified government official, reported that the four North Koreans – a man and three women – are members of one family. KBS said they were not armed and did not wear military uniforms when they were found.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry declined to provide personal details of the four, saying an investigation was under way.

North Korea’s state media did not immediately report on the four North Koreans.

North Korean defectors are required to undergo questioning by South Korean authorities to determine whether their desire to resettle is genuine.

In 2019, South Korea deported two North Korean fishermen who said they wished to resettle, after determining they were criminals who had killed 16 fellow crew members. Earlier, several North Koreans were arrested after South Korean investigations concluded they were spies who had entered the country posing as defectors.

If the four North Koreans found on Tuesday are determined to be genuine defectors, it would be the second case of North Koreans fleeing to the South by sea this year. In May, nine defected by sea off the Korean Peninsula’s west coast, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

-AP

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