Three of four North Koreans rescued at sea earlier this week will be allowed to stay in the South after requesting asylum and the fourth wants to return home, a South Korean official said Saturday.

The three North Koreans will be granted asylum and allowed to settle in the South, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae—sung said without elaborating.

In past cases, South Korean intelligence officials questioned North defectors for weeks before they were sent to a resettlement centre.

South Korea’s Red Cross sent a message to its North Korean counterpart to arrange the repatriation of the fourth person, Mr. Chun said.

The South Korean coast guard rescued the four from a small boat that drifted into South Korean waters off the divided peninsula’s eastern coast.

Mr. Chun said he had no information about the identities of the four, such as if they were a family.

Repeated calls to South Korea’s spy agency and South Korea’s Red Cross seeking further information went unanswered on Saturday.

The Unification Ministry says more than 18,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the Korean War ended with a 1953 cease—fire.

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