Defectors coming by barge since Cheonan sinking

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Defectors coming by barge since Cheonan sinking

The defection of North Koreans via sea barges is on the rise since the Cheonan sinking in March, according to the military. Seoul is concerned that the defections could be part of a spying scheme by Pyongyang.

Government sources in foreign affairs and defense told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that two North Koreans were spotted by the South Korean Navy on an unpowered barge in the East Sea, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from Sokcho, Gangwon, at 9 a.m. June 26.

“On the spot, they said their motive was to defect from the military,” one source said, “and were led to the appropriate government organizations.”

The source said intelligence agents are interrogating the defectors, in particular over their backgrounds and their defection route.

The defections come as the government is suspecting that the North may be changing its ways of sending spies to the South. Recently, spies disguised as defectors have been arrested by the military.

The sources said defections by sea might stem from strengthened security measures by China on its border with North Korea. But they might also be an attempt by North Korea to check security conditions on the South’s coastlines after the Cheonan sinking, using spies disguised as defectors.

According to the military, it was the fifth incident of North Koreans defecting by barges since the Cheonan incident. Four of the defections occurred last month.

Before the Cheonan incident, there was only one defection by barge. On Oct. 1, 2009, 11 North Koreans defected in this manner.

“An intensive government investigation into recent North Korean defections will soon be able to determine whether they are disguised spies or not,” said another government official.

A multinational inspection team concluded in May that North Korea fired a torpedo off the west coast on March 26, sinking the Cheonan and killing 46 of its sailors.


By Jeong Yong-soo [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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