N Korea tells S Korea to hand over refugees
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Last Updated: Thursday, June 16, 2011, 21:56
Seoul: North Korea on Thursday demanded the return of nine of its citizens who defected by boat and warned that cross-border relations would suffer otherwise, Seoul officials said.

The three men, two women and four children crossed the tense Yellow Sea border last Saturday in two small boats. Media reports say they want to defect, and the South says they are free to choose whether to stay or to return home.

The North's Red Cross sent a message to its South Korean counterpart to demand the return of the nine immediately, Seoul's unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said in a statement.

Failure to do so could further damage relations, the message added.

The arrival in February of a boatload of North Koreans sparked weeks of acrimony. That boat drifted across the Yellow Sea border in thick fog, possibly accidentally.

Seoul returned 27 of the 31 people on board but refused to hand over the other four, saying they had freely chosen to stay in the South.

Pyongyang complained bitterly that the four had been pressured to stay and publicised appeals from their relatives for them to come home.

The latest incident comes at a time of high cross-border tensions, after the North announced it was breaking all contacts with the South's government.

The North's military has threatened an attack in protest at a move by some South Korean troops to use photos of Pyongyang's ruling family as rifle-range targets.

The practice has been stopped but the North is demanding an apology.

However, one analyst said he did not believe the latest defection would seriously aggravate the situation.


First Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011, 21:56

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