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(LEAD) S. Korea says 2 N. Koreans defect to South across western sea border

All Headlines 11:26 May 19, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with details; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean military officer and a civilian crossed the tense western sea border into South Korea on a small boat earlier Saturday, a government official said, the latest in a string of defections by North Koreans in recent years.

A South Korean Navy vessel spotted a small boat carrying the two in the waters north of South Korea's Baengnyeong Island near the western inter-Korean sea border.

The pair told the South Korean military that they were willing to defect to South Korea.

They remain in the custody of the South Korean Coast Guard and will be investigated by relevant officials over the exact motives for their defection.

It was the first defection by a North Korean military officer since April 2008, when a 28-year-old second lieutenant crossed the heavily fortified land border that separates South and North Korea.

The latest defection came just weeks after the leaders of the two Koreas held a summit and reached an agreement on a wide range of measures to ease tensions and pursue various economic cooperation projects.

It remains unclear what influence, if any, the defection will have on the thawing relations between the two Koreas.

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

South Korea is now home to more than 30,000 North Korean defectors, and the flow of defectors continues amid chronic food shortages and harsh political oppression.

A North Korean military officer and a civilian crossed the tense western sea border into South Korea on a small boat on May 19, 2018. This photo shows North Korean fishing vessels on the Yellow Sea earlier in the day. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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