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South Korea will make second attempt to send North Koreans home

By the CNN Wire Staff
A North Korean soldier (C) and a South Korean soldier (R) stand guard in the Demilitarized Zone on January 19.
A North Korean soldier (C) and a South Korean soldier (R) stand guard in the Demilitarized Zone on January 19.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Four members of a group of 31 North Koreans have defected to the South
  • North Korea is demanding the return of the whole group, including the defectors
  • The South Korean government firmly refuses to return the four defectors

(CNN) -- South Korea will attempt a second time to send a group of North Koreans back to the communist North on Monday, according to the Red Cross.

The effort comes three days after North Korea refused accept the same group.

The North rejected the first attempt by the South to repatriate 27 of the North Koreans over four defectors, who decided remain behind in South Korea. The North has demanded the return of the whole group of 31 -- including the defectors, according to South Korea's official news agency Yonhap.

The North Koreans accidentally crossed over into South Korean waters on a fishing boat in early February.

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The defections have become a new point of tension between the Koreas. Defection is a crime in North Korea that carries the death penalty, according to Yonhap.

North Korea on Monday proposed working-level Red Cross talks regarding repatriation, according to a South Korean Red Cross news release. South Korea has accepted the proposal for talks but rejected a key demand by the North.

The North Korean Red Cross plans to bring three family members of the four North Korean defectors to the meeting, according to the news release, and demand that the South Koreans bring the four defectors to the meeting with them.

The South Korean government reaffirmed its intention Monday not to repatriate the four North Korean defectors, Yonhap reported.

"There is no change in our basic position that a decision made based on the free will of a person must be respected," said South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung in the Yonhap report.

South Korea's intelligence agency questioned the North Koreans for about a month since they crossed over in early February before deciding to release the group, the Korean Red Cross said.

There are currently more than 20,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea, according to the South's Unification Ministry. The number of annual defectors has risen dramatically since the turn of the century and continues to climb.

Defectors who are forcefully repatriated to the North after attempting to cross over into third countries such as China, Mongolia or Southeast Asia are commonly sent to prison camps as a punishment. Many defectors who live in South Korea fear for the lives of their family or relatives who remain in the North.

CNN's Jiyeon Lee contributed to this report

 
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