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S. Korea firm on North Korean defectors

SEOUL, June 17 (UPI) -- Nine Koreans who crossed into South Korean waters wanted to defect and any decision about them will be based on their wishes, Seoul said Friday.

The South conveyed its message to North Korea through its Red Cross after Pyongyang demanded their return.

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South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported earlier this week the North Koreans -- three men, two women and four children traveling in a boat without an engine -- managed to cross the tense western sea border to reach South Korea.

"As all nine North Koreans wish to defect, according to the investigation by relevant agencies, it will be handled in accordance with their free will," Yonhap reported the South Korean Red Cross said in its message to its North Korean counterpart.

The report said the nine are family members who explicitly expressed their desire to defect after reaching South Korean waters, officials said.

The report said under Seoul's long-standing policy, the country will accept any North Korean who wants to live in the South.

Yonhap reported the North Korean Red Cross warned Thursday inter-Korean relations could be further damaged if the nine are not sent back. Relations between the two Koreas have worsened since 50 South Koreans died last year in attacks blamed on North Korea.

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