Photo/IllutrationNorth Korean soldiers look at the South side as a South Korean soldier, foreground right, stands during a press tour at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, on June 12. (AP Photo)

SEOUL--South Korea said Tuesday two of four North Korean fishermen who were rescued off a boat drifting in South Korean waters will remain in the country after expressing their desire to defect.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said the two other fishermen were sent back to North Korea through an inter-Korean village.

The fishermen were rescued by the South Korean coast guard on Saturday from a broken boat that drifted 150 kilometers south of the sea border between the Koreas off the peninsula's eastern coast.

The defections by the two fishermen come at a delicate time in bilateral relations between the Koreas.

North Korea has significantly reduced its dialogue and engagement with South Korea since February, when a high-stakes nuclear summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed over disagreements on exchanging sanctions relief for disarmament.

North Korea has yet to comment on the fishermen. North Korea is highly sensitive about defections and often accuses South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies.

About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korean government figures.