TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government plans to transfer nine North Korean defectors currently in Japan to South Korea in accordance with their wishes, government officials said Wednesday.
Tokyo will enter talks with Seoul as early as later this week on the transfer, the officials said. A South Korean government official has already said the country would welcome the nine if they wish to go to the South.
"We have heard from the North Korean defectors what they desire," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a press conference. "We would like to appropriately engage in talks with the South Korean government after obtaining details."
After being found adrift aboard a wooden boat off the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture on Tuesday, the nine people were identified as North Korean defectors according to documents carried by them and were allowed to land in Japan earlier Wednesday.
The nine, including three children, were in good health after spending the night on a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel at a port in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast in central Japan.
On Wednesday morning, the nine applied for temporary refuge as they met with officials from the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau and the 9th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters aboard the patrol vessel.
The immigration bureau granted provisional landing permission, allowing them to be airlifted from Kanazawa to an immigration facility in Nagasaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, in the afternoon to complete the procedures for temporary refuge.
A man who presented himself as the leader of the nine told immigration officials that he used to make a living by octopus fishing in North Korea, according to the officials.
But living conditions became more difficult every year due to the considerable amount of money he had to pay to the North's Korean People's Army, the man was quoted as telling the officials.A Japan Coast Guard ship is seen guiding the unidentified boat, presumed to be carrying North Korean defectors, to the nearest port along the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture in this photograph taken from a Mainichi helicopter at 1:20 p.m. on Sept. 13. (Mainichi)
The man also said that after hearing about people's lives in South Korea he began to think that they would be better off living there, according to the officials.
The immigration authorities have found no criminal records for any of the defectors and will grant them formal landing permits and carry forward embarkation procedures to send them to South Korea.
The authorities will further investigate how the man, whom they believe to be a fisherman, was able to obtain such information about South Korea.
In June 2007, the last time North Korean defectors arrived in Japan by boat, a family of four people who landed in Aomori Prefecture on the northern tip of Honshu were transferred to an immigration facility in Ibaraki Prefecture.
It took two weeks before they left for South Korea as one of them was in possession of stimulant drugs and had to wait for prosecutors to suspend an indictment.
"The ongoing case is different from the past one as no crime has been found," a senior government official said, indicating that the nine could be transferred to South Korea without much delay.
Dealing with North Korean defectors is a delicate issue in Japan due to an array of unresolved tensions, including those related to Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese nationals as well as the North's missile threats and nuclear ambitions.