U.S. rails China over repatriation

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U.S. rails China over repatriation

Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping protesting Beijing’s alleged cooperation with the repatriation of nine North Korean defectors from Laos to the regime where they are likely to face brutal punishment and imprisonment.

In a signed letter written in English, Royce expressed his “grave concern” over the quick and well-choreographed deportation of the nine young North Korean defectors from Laos, which he assumes was possible with the help of China, Pyongyang’s closest ally.

“These nine individuals, some as young as 15, now face extreme punishment in North Korea,” Royce said in the letter, which was posted on the committee’s Web site, dated Friday. “I am disappointed that your government continues this mistreatment of North Korean refugees, and I respectfully request that you put an immediate end to these forced repatriations.

“The U.S. and China must work together to address the serious challenges that North Korea poses to the world community,” he said. “I strongly encourage the government of the People’s Republic of China to work closely with the U.S. and others to find an alternative to forced repatriations.”

Last week, the nine North Korean defectors, seven males and two females in their teens and early 20s, were stopped in Laos, held for several days and finally surrendered to North Korean agents, who flew them through China back to North Korea. They were trying to get to South Korea with the help of a minister and his wife surnamed Joo. South Korea’s diplomats in Seoul and Laos appear to have been blindsided by the operation to surrender them to North Korea.

Although some Chinese diplomats told the JoongAng Ilbo that they didn’t receive any notice from the Laotian government in regard to the defectors, there is suspicion that Beijing must have been aware of the deportation, given the fact that they have cooperated with several similar repatriations previously.

Royce, a California congressman, also mentioned China’s international status as a signatory of a United Nations convention in which it is obliged to protect UN-defined refugees in its territory. “As a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, the People’s Republic of China is obligated to respect the rights of those that fear significant persecution in their homeland,” he said.

Jen Psaki, spokewoman of the U.S. Department of State, also said on Friday that Washington is “very concerned” about the defectors. “We are very concerned about the reports we’ve seen that the individuals have been sent back to North Korea,” Psaki said.

“We’re closely monitoring the situation. We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories.”

In the midst of the international community’s interest in the issue of protecting North Korean refugees, South Korean diplomats based in South and East Asian countries will convene a working-level meeting this month to discuss how to prevent further deportations.

“In the middle of this month, we arranged a meeting of officials in charge of North Korean defectors [at Korean embassies],” a South Korean government official told reporters.

“We will scrutinize the recent repatriation [of nine defectors] and discuss further measures.”

Expectation is also growing that Seoul and Beijing would discuss the issue at the upcoming summit between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart Xi.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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