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(2nd LD) 31 N. Koreans arrive in S. Korea by boat, but no wish to defect

All Headlines 11:25 February 07, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with military official saying North Koreans have not wished to defect in first six paras; TRIMS; AMENDS headline, slug)

SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) -- Thirty-one North Korean people crossed the tense Yellow Sea border by boat and arrived in South Korea two days ago, but they have not expressed any wishes to defect to the South, a military official said Monday.

The North Koreans, consisting of 11 men and 20 women, arrived on Yeonpyeong Island by a wooden fishing boat in thick fog at around 11 a.m. Saturday and were towed away to the western port city of Incheon, said the official at the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

"So far, the North Koreans have not expressed a wish to defect," the official said, asking not to be named because an investigation is still under way.

The official confirmed that the North Koreans are a "work group," not family members.

The JCS official said intelligence authorities will announce details after their interrogation is finished.

Another military official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators are looking into the possibility that the North Koreans arrived on Yeonpyeong Island after drifting at sea.

There are no children among the North Koreans, and they were believed to have left North Korea's western port city of Nampo, about 60 kilometers southwest of Pyongyang, according to the military official.

"Given the circumstances so far, they might have been drifting after setting the wrong coordinates or losing power on their boat," the military official said.

The arrival of North Koreans also came at a sensitive time as military officials from Seoul and Pyongyang are set to hold their first dialogue on Tuesday since the North's deadly attack of Yeonpyeong last November.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have remained high since the North shelled Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two marines.

More than 20,000 North Koreans have arrived in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.


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