North Korea on Wednesday proposed holding inter-Korean Red Cross talks to discuss the repatriation of four North Korean defectors, officials said.
The four were among 31 North Koreans who strayed across the inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea on a wooden boat last month.
The remaining 27 were repatriated to the North by sea earlier this week, in accordance with their wishes.
North Korea agreed to accept the 27 only after insisting for weeks that it would take either all 31 or none, accusing the South of forcing the four who wished to stay into defection.
"The North Korean Red Cross sent a letter to the South's Red Cross this afternoon and proposed a meeting with the four defectors, as well as working-level talks between the two sides to discuss their repatriation," said an official at the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.
The official said the government has rejected the proposal, noting the North proposed the talks be held April 6 at the border village of Panmunjom.
South Korea rejected a similar proposal earlier this month when the North asked for the four wishing to defect to be brought to inter-Korean Red Cross talks to reunite with their families. The talks fell through, but the South offered to confirm the defectors' "free will" in a "fair and objective" way.
"The four defectors already made their decision to stay according to their free will," the official said.
"We cannot agree to Red Cross talks aimed at their repatriation and a face-to-face meeting," although the South's suggested method for confirming the defectors' free will remains valid, he said.