8 North Korean men mysteriously wash ashore in Japan

TOKYO (Reuters) - Police in northern Japan have found eight men near a boat at a seaside marina who said they were from North Korea, and appear to be fishermen whose vessel ran into trouble, rather than defectors, a police official said on Friday.

The incident comes at a time of rising tension over North Korea's nuclear arms and missile programs after President Donald Trump redesignated the isolated nation a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the United States to levy further sanctions.

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North Koreans wash ashore in Japan
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North Koreans wash ashore in Japan
A wooden boat is seen in front of a breakwater in Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture, Japan November 24, 2017. Kyodo reported the boat washed ashore carrying eight men claiming to be from North Korea. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A wooden boat, which according to a police official carried eight men who said they were from North Korea and appear to be fishermen whose vessel ran into trouble, is seen near a breakwater in Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture, Japan, November 24, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A wooden boat, which according to a police official carried eight men who said they were from North Korea and appear to be fishermen whose vessel ran into trouble, is seen near a breakwater in Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture, Japan November 24, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT.
The wreckage of a boat is pictured along a sea wall in the city of Yurihonjo, Akita prefecture on November 24, 2017. A group of eight fishermen claiming to be from North Korea washed up in northern Japan after drifting there when their wooden vessel developed problems, authorities said on November 24. / AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS / - / Japan OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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Japanese police took the men into custody after a resident of Yurihonjo, a city in the prefecture of Akita, told police of the presence of individuals of unknown nationality, the official, Yoshinobu Ito, told Reuters.

The men, who said they were North Koreans, appear to be fishermen whose wooden boat, found nearby, had trouble and went adrift, Ito said. Police and authorities were now dealing with the matter, he added.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, asked if the possibility the men were spies had been ruled out, told a news conference authorities were handling the matter carefully.

Japan is studying plans to cope with a possible influx of tens of thousands of North Korean evacuees should a military or other crisis break out on the peninsula, as well as how to weed out spies and terrorists among them, a domestic newspaper said.

Last week, the Japan Coast Guard rescued three North Korean men on a capsized boat in the Sea of Japan, off central Japan. The men said they were fishermen and were later sent home aboard a North Korean vessel. Twelve more crew went missing.

Last week a North Korean soldier dramatically defected to the South after being shot and wounded by his country's military as he made his getaway across the border in the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone between the two countries.

 

(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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