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South Korea won't return 9 defectors from the North

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • North and South Korea have no formal ties
  • The group makes the border crossing over the weekend in the Yellow Sea
  • They travel in a boat with no engine
  • South Korean authorities question them about their motives

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea's Unification Ministry on Friday rejected a demand from the North to repatriate nine of its citizens who defected to the South by boat over the weekend.

The South's Red Cross informed North Korea through a statement that all nine defectors have expressed their desire to defect to the South, a statement from the ministry said.

North and South Korea have no formal ties and remain technically in a state of war since a 1953 truce that ended the Korean War.

The group made the border crossing Saturday in the Yellow Sea off the west of the Korean peninsula, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said this week. The nine defectors made the journey in an engineless boat, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

The development comes four months after a group of 31 North Koreans accidentally crossed over into South Korean waters on a fishing boat. Four members of that group decided to defect to the South, despite Pyongyang's demands that they all be repatriated to the North, the South Korean Red Cross said in March.

There are currently more than 20,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea, according to the South's Unification Ministry. The number of annual defectors has risen drastically since the turn of the century and continues to climb.

Defectors who are forcefully repatriated to the North after attempting to cross over into places such as China, Mongolia or Southeast Asia are commonly sent to prison camps as a punishment. Some defectors who live in South Korea have said they fear for the lives of their family or relatives who remain in the North.

CNN's Jiyeon Lee and Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.