A Christian pastor said Friday that two years of planning helped him secure the defection of nine North Koreans to the South in a daring transfer at sea that could further inflame cross-border tensions.
Kim Sung-Eun, who leads a church mostly made up of defectors from the North, said he arranged to bring the defectors to the South for reunions with their relatives who had already entered the country.
The new arrivals left China's northeastern port of Dalian last Monday on a chartered Chinese fishing boat and were bundled on to a South Korean trawler in international waters in the Yellow Sea.
"It took me two years to pull it off as we have to be very careful about security," he told AFP by phone from his church in Cheonan City, 85 kilometres (53 miles) south of the capital Seoul.
The nine refugees comprised six people belonging to two families and three individuals, said Kim, who is married to a North Korean.Some of them had been in China in hiding for up to four years while others came directly from the North via China. South Korean Christian missionaries have come into conflict with Beijing for their attempts to spread Christianity among North Koreans hiding in China who are then helped to defect to the South.
The latest defection comes as Pyongyang remains angered over an incident involving 31 North Koreans whose boat drifted across the disputed Yellow Sea border in thick fog last month, and then four of the group asked to stay in the South.