SEOUL: North Korea has demanded South Korea repatriate a group of 11 North Koreans who defected by sea last week, but the South does not intend to return them, the Unification Ministry said on Sunday.

The 11 crossed into southern waters off the divided peninsula’s east coast aboard a small barge early Thursday evening.

The North sent a message - first on Friday, then again today — demanding the South return all the 11 defectors.

South Korea responded that all of the defectors have expressed their desire to resettle in the South. Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the North has made similar demands in the past for the return of defectors, but South Korea has never returned those who expressed their intention to stay in the South. More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.