15 defectors nabbed by China police in Kunming

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15 defectors nabbed by China police in Kunming

A total of 15 North Korean defectors were caught by Chinese police in Kunming, the capital of China’s southern Yunnan Province, en route to a Southeast Asian country and South Korea, a source confirmed for the Korea JoongAng Daily.

The defectors were arrested by policemen Friday morning while they were preparing to take a bus across the Chinese border to another country, the Dong-A Ilbo reported yesterday.

“I talked by phone with the brokers assisting them on their journey and confirmed the report of the Dong-A Ilbo,” a source in a civic group in Seoul that helps North Korean defectors told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The brokers are related to a church in South Korea, and they don’t want this case in the media.”

The Chinese policemen were not from Yunnan Province but northern Liaoning Province, which borders North Korea, the Dong-A said.

When they arrested the defectors, the policemen were in plain clothes, not uniform, according to the newspaper. The gender, age and hometowns of the defectors have not been disclosed. Kunming is known as a strategically important city for North Korean defectors since it is on the way to Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Thailand, countries that help defectors get to South Korea.

“The government is checking the report,” a South Korean government official told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “But the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be cooperating with us to confirm the case.”

One report said some family members of the defectors already live in the South, which the official could not confirm. “If we confirm this case, we would formally request the Chinese government to not repatriate them to the North,” another South Korean government official told reporters at a briefing yesterday.

Yonhap News Agency reported yesterday that two of the 15 defectors fled before being caught, citing some sources, and the Chinese police only arrested 13. The 13 arrested defectors reportedly include two ethnic Koreans from northeast China, Yonhap said.

“As far as we know, the Chinese government repatriates all North Korean defectors they detain, despite the South Korean government’s requests,” Kwon Eun-kyoung, an official at The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “But we had one exception - in August, the Chinese government sent to South Korea three defectors who held South Korean citizenship.”

In August, China handed over three out of five members of a family of North Korean defectors caught on Chinese territory while on their way to the South. The three had originally defected to the South in August 2009 and had Southern nationality.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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