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9 N. Korean defectors arrive in Seoul

SEOUL, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Nine North Korean defectors who initially made their way to Japan arrived in South Korea Tuesday, officials said.

The refugees -- six adults and three children -- kept their faces hidden by jacket hoods, caps, sunglasses and medical-style masks and ignored reporters as they made their way through Seoul's Incheon International Airport, The Korea Times reported.

Accompanied by security guards, they were taken by bus to a state-run shelter for North Korean defectors where Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said they would be questioned by intelligence officials before being sent to a resettlement center, the newspaper reported.

The defectors, whose names have not been released, had been found in a drifting wooden boat off Japan's west coast Sept. 13. One man in the group has said he was a member of the North Korean army and another claimed he is a grandson of Baek Nam-woon, a former chairman of the North's Supreme People's Assembly, officials said.

"They have expressed the desire to live in South Korea," Cho said. "The government has decided to respect that."

More than 21,700 North Koreans have fled to the South since the end of the Korean War 58 years ago. The South grants them automatic citizenship after they spend three months in a resettlement and education center upon arrival.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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