8 North Koreans Flee to South

SEOUL, South Korea -- Eight members of two North Korean families defected to South Korea by boat Wednesday in the second major escape from the communist state in two months, the government said.

Their defection also was the first major escape to the South by sea in years.

Upon arriving at the port of Inchon west of Seoul, the eight North Koreans looked tense, but they smiled brightly and shouted "Thank you!" when they were asked to pose for photographs.

Government agents whisked them off to Seoul in a minibus for questioning.

The defectors were found adrift in a fishing boat 100 kilometers south of the border by South Korean patrol boats and were towed to a nearby island, officials said. From there, they were transferred to a police helicopter.

Their defection followed the escape of 17 North Koreans from a single family who arrived here Dec. 9 after a journey through China into Hong Kong.

Government officials initially had said these latest defectors came directly from North Korea, but later said they may have slipped to China first and then got a boat to defect to the South.

The government identified the defectors as Kim Young Jin, 50, his wife and two sons, and Yoo Song Il, 46, his son and two daughters.