20 defectors make their way to Seoul from Laos

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20 defectors make their way to Seoul from Laos

A group of 20 North Korean defectors made their way to Seoul from Laos on an undisclosed date this month aided by South Korean diplomats, the Chosun Ilbo reported yesterday.

The report, which said the defector group included minors, disabled and elderly people, prompted a quick backlash from North Korea, which accused Seoul of abducting its citizens and blamed the Blue House directly.

Citing an unidentified government source, the local newspaper reported that the 20 defectors boarded a flight bound for Seoul in the Laotian capital of Vientiane and landed in the country safely earlier this month.

The source was quoted as saying that the defectors will be settled in the country following government questioning.

The government yesterday declined to confirm the report, citing the policy that government officials are banned from divulging information about North Korean defectors.

“To safeguard the security of defectors here and in a third country as well as to continue cooperation with a third country [that harbors refugees from the North], it is our principle that we do not go public about defectors,” said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ministry was under fire earlier this month for being blindsided by the forced repatriation of a group of nine young defectors from Laos on May 27 and 28.

An official at Free North Korea Radio, a radio station that exclusively reports on North Korean affairs, told the Korea JoongAng Daily that its source at the Foreign Ministry had confirmed the safe arrival of the 20 defectors.

“We received an e-mail from our source [yesterday] at the Foreign Affairs Ministry that the 20 defectors arrived safely in Seoul,” said the official.

It was earlier reported that 18 defectors were moved from a safe house in Vientiane to the Korean Embassy on June 4 on the direct order of President Park Geun-hye. Two more defectors were reported to have joined the group later.

After the Chosun Ilbo report, Pyongyang claimed the Park government was luring North Koreans overseas.

In an interview with Pyongyang’s mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency, an unnamed spokesperson of the North Korean Red Cross said it was a “grave provocation” by the Seoul government to commit “an inhumane crime to abduct North Koreans with the involvement of the Blue House and the South Korean Embassy [in Laos].”

“What is more shocking to people is the fact that this operation was masterminded by the Blue House,” the North Korean official said.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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