TOKYO Japanese authorities are questioning nine people believed to be North Korean defectors after they were found on a boat in the Sea of Japan hoping to reach South Korea, Japan's coastguard said on Tuesday.
Three men, three women and three children are being questioned on a Japanese patrol vessel outside of the port of Kanazawa in northwestern Japan, a spokeswoman at the coastguard told Reuters.
Dealing with North Korean defectors is tricky for Japan which has long feuded with North Korea over issues including Japan's 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula and Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese citizens decades ago.
Japan sees itself as a possible target of aggression by its unpredictable neighbor.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference that the nine people wanted to be rescued and that Japan would handle the situation appropriately, taking into account similar cases in the past.
In the most recent case, Japan held some North Koreans who arrived by boat in Aomori, northern Japan, in June 2007 and sent them to South Korea upon their request, another coastguard spokesman said.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)