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S. Korea rejects N. Korea's repatriation demand for 2 sailors

All Headlines 11:05 October 06, 2011

SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday it will not repatriate two North Koreans who crossed the eastern sea border earlier this week, a development that could anger North Korea.

The two brothers clearly expressed their wish to stay in South Korea after sailing here on a small boat on Monday, according to South Korea's Red Cross.

"We will handle the case by respecting their free will," the Red Cross said in a message to its North Korean counterpart earlier in the day via its channel at the truce village of Panmunjom, which separates the two Koreas.

The rejection came a day after North Korea pressed South Korea to hand over its two citizens.

The latest defection bid comes amid lingering tensions between the two divided Koreas over Pyongyang's two deadly attacks against the South last year.

Seoul has a longstanding policy to accept any North Korean defectors who want to live in the South, and repatriate any North Koreans who stray into the South if they want to return.

More than 22,000 North Koreans have defected to the South to avoid chronic hunger and political oppression since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.


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