9 N. Koreans defect to South aboard boat
By Kang Hyun-kyung, Chung Min-uck
Nine North Koreans aboard a small boat defected to the South last Saturday after crossing the maritime border in the West Sea, a government official said Wednesday.
A joint team, consisting of the National Intelligence Service, National Police Agency, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Security Command, is now questioning them.
The nine arrived at Udo, a deserted island next to Yeonpyeong Island, aboard the small-size vessel around 6:05 a.m. Saturday.
They declared their intention to defect when the South Korean military spotted them approaching the maritime border in the West Sea.
A government official said the North Koreans were comprised of three men, two women and four children.
A military officer who initially spotted them was quoted as saying that “the North Koreans were waving their hands in a peaceful manner.”
It’s been more than four months since the last defections when four out of 31 North Koreans who drifted into the South’s water on Feb. 5 expressed their desire to stay here.
The remaining 27 were sent back to the North on March 27, 50 days after they arrived in the South.
Pyongyang reacted furiously to Seoul’s decision to allow the four to stay, demanding they be repatriated.
Nearly 20,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea to date.
The North has not responded to the latest defection.
Analysts say the defections could be a sign that the food situation in the North is getting worse and the hardship facing the population is increasing.
Pyongyang has requested the United States, Europe and other countries to provide food aid.
The World Food Program (WFP) sent a team to the North to investigate the food situation there in March, and later called for the international community to resume food aid.
Millions reportedly go hungry in the North with women and children being hit the hardest.