SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Two North Koreans have arrived in South Korea to seek asylum after fleeing their communist homeland, the government said Monday.

The National Intelligence Service identified the two as Lee Ji Ha, a 53-year-old radio station official, and Kim Hyun Chul, a 39-year-old laborer. They fled North Korea in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

The two had been hiding in a ``third'' country, the intelligence agency said, a term often used in reference to China. Beijing is required by treaty with North Korea to send defectors back, and Seoul avoids naming it to avoid diplomatic friction.

The agency gave no further details.

A total of 440 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since 1994, including 135 this year. Most said they left because of hunger and came through China.

The two Koreas are technically still at war, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a permanent peace treaty.