Worries mount over North defectors

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Worries mount over North defectors

As the fate of a group of North Korean defectors hangs in the balance, a senior presidential aide met an opposition lawmaker on a hunger strike and promised the government’s best efforts to persuade Beijing not to repatriate them.

Chun Yung-woo, senior presidential secretary for foreign and security affairs, said he met with Representative Park Sun-young of the conservative opposition Liberty Forward Party by visiting her rally site in front of the Chinese Embassy in downtown Seoul Sunday.

Chun said he made the visit to persuade the lawmaker to stop her hunger strike and allow the government to handle the matter.

As of yesterday, Park has been on a hunger strike for a week. She wants Beijing to not repatriate dozens of defectors detained in China.

China is known to have kept dozens of North Koreans in custody in several places since early this month, according to human rights activists. The exact number is not known, is at least 24. According to reports, some of the defectors have already been repatriated, and they may face harsh punishment or even execution upon their return to the North.

Park has been an active advocate of human rights in North Korea and her latest move, supported by South Korean celebrities, activists and even foreign refugees, prompted the international community to restate their concerns to China over the defectors’ fates.

“It is not that I went there on any instruction,” Chun told Yonhap News Agency, cautioning against reading too much into his “unofficial” visit. “I told her the government is doing everything it can and asked her to trust the government,” he said.

Taking a step away from its long-standing policy of employing “quiet diplomacy” in such cases, Seoul recently stepped up its pressure on Beijing over the defectors. In a press conference last Wednesday, President Lee Myung-bak urged Beijing to deal with the arrested defectors under international norms.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council’s annual session was scheduled to open yesterday in Geneva, and Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs Kim Bong-hyun was to give a keynote speech addressing the issue.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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