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South Korean officials say Seoul has rejected a demand from North Korea to return 11 defectors.

The South's Unification Ministry said Sunday that it has no intention of returning the people, who defected to the South by sea last week, because they expressed their desire to settle in the South.

The ministry said Pyongyang had sent a message through a cross-border military hotline demanding the refugees back.

An official with South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said last week that the North Koreans crossed into southern waters Thursday evening on a small boat off the peninsula's east coast.

Defections by sea are rare.  Most North Koreans flee to the South over land through China and Southeast Asia.  

More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.  Most of them have come in recent years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.