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South Korea Repatriates 27 North Koreans, Keeps 4

Screen shot of a N. Korea state website shows a video of an interview with N. Korean family who drifted into S. Korean waters aboard a fishing vessel last month, in Seoul, March 9, 2011

Officials in Seoul say that South Korea repatriated 27 North Korean fishermen Sunday, but kept four who want to stay in the South.

South Korea's coast guard said the 27 crossed the Northern Limit Line sea border Sunday afternoon and were met by a North Korean navy vessel.

The North had refused since early this month to accept the return of any members of the group unless it received all 31 men and women who were on board the boat. The South said it would not return two men and two women who have asked to defect.

Officials in Seoul said last week that the North had finally agreed to accept the 27 out of consideration for their families.

North Korea had accused the South of holding the four defectors against their will. Pyongyang had demanded that they be brought to the border village of Panmunjom to explain to their relatives why they did not want to return home.

South Korean officials say the 31 fishermen were discovered near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on February 6.