June 8, 2017 / 10:48 AM / a month ago

Two rescued North Koreans ask to defect to South - South Korea

2 Min Read

SEOUL (Reuters) - Two North Koreans have decided to defect to South Korea after being rescued last week from waters off the east coast of the peninsula, South Korea said on Thursday.

People from the reclusive and impoverished North have occasionally defected to the rich, democratic South by fishing boat, crossing the disputed maritime border between the two sides. But most defections are via China.

South Korea's navy and coastguard rescued four people from two vessels on Friday and Saturday, and the four were then questioned by South Korean authorities, who offered to send them home, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

The two who told authorities they wanted to defect to South Korea were a man in his 50s and his son in his 20s, an official from the ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said by telephone.

"We will provide education for them to settle in South Korea, for a certain period of time, as is usual for North Korean defectors," the official said.

The official, who declined to be identified, said he did not know if the two had originally planned to defect or decided to only after being rescued. The Yonhap news agency said the father appeared to have planned to defect.

The other two would be sent home, as they had requested, the ministry official said.

In the past, when North Koreans rescued from South Korean waters have chosen to stay in the South, North Korea has accused South Korea of holding them against their will.

There has been no comment from North Korea, or reports in its state media, about the latest cases.

North and South Korea remain in a technical state of war since their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Tension on the peninsula has been particularly high over the past year because of the North's work on its nuclear and missile programmes.

North Korea fired several anti-ship missiles off its east coast on Thursday, drawing condemnation from South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Reporting by Yuna Park, editing by Ju-min Park,

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