Repatriated defectors appear in TV propaganda

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Repatriated defectors appear in TV propaganda

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The Korean Central News Agency Friday reported a round-table style interview at the Koryo Hall of Compatriots in Pyongyang with the nine young defectors forcibly repatriated from Laos to North Korea last month. [NEWSIS]

The nine young defectors forcibly repatriated from Laos to North Korea last month appeared on state-run television and asserted they were “abducted” by South Korea and voluntarily chose to return to their homeland.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Friday aired footage of a round-table style interview with the nine youths, shot the previous day at the Koryo Hall of Compatriots in Pyongyang.

They were seated in a straight line behind wooden desks and wore matching white or light blue short-sleeved, button-down shirts with a Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il lapel pin on their left breasts. The boys wore matching dark pants and the girls wore knee-length skirts.

The North reported their full names and said they were between the ages of 14 and 19, though international human rights groups previously said they were 15 to 23. Most were believed to be orphans escaping starvation in North Korea.

In the recording, the youths said that they were abducted and held from five months to three years in the home of a South Korean minister in Dandong, China. Some of the kids claimed they had been abused and forced to sing hymns and partake in religious activities.

“They took video footage of us and showed them to other people, crying and begging for donations, and raised a lot of money,” said one defector.

They said that the missionary couple urged them to go to South Korea and led them to Laos, where officials there finally “set them free.”

Photos taken previously by the missionary and released to media showed the group smiling and relaxed.Analysts had speculated that Pyongyang would use the youths for propaganda purposes.

Throughout the show, the nine youths sat stiffly and without animated expressions, hands folded on their laps. They made no slipups. One defector thanked “dear leader Kim Jong-un” for saving them “from the depths of misery.”

Human rights activists involved in their defection said that the South Korea-bound youths crossed from North Korea to the Chinese city of Dandong, with the support of a Korean missionary couple.

Early in May, they headed to Laos in an attempt to eventually apply for asylum in South Korea. But they were detained by Laotian officials on May 10. Laos handed them over to North Korean agents on May 27, who flew them to the Chinese cities of Kunming and Beijing, and eventually to Pyongyang on May 28. At the end of the show, the nine youths stood and sung a song pledging loyalty to Kim Jong-un, and one girl was seemingly moved to tears as she sang. North Korean sources previously said the youths had been photographed in amusement parks and recreation facilities around Pyongyang, acting like they were glad to be back home. Sin Son-ho, North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, held a press conference at UN headquarters in New York Friday and denied there were “any human rights problems.”

Replying to a reporter’s question, Sin said in English, “I think you are referring to recent news that some girls and boys were abducted by South Korean - you know - human trafficking agents.”

“If they go to South Korea or somewhere else, their whereabouts we can’t know,” Sin added, “So we have our moral obligation to protect and defend their safety.”

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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