Defectors likely to be repatriated

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Defectors likely to be repatriated

The 15 North Korean defectors who were arrested by Chinese police on their way to Southeast Asia were sent to Dandong, a border region with North Korea, which will be their last stop before being repatriated, a source familiar with the affairs told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“They have been sent to Dandong, a northeastern city of China that borders North Korea,” the source from a Seoul-based civic group said by telephone. “We assume that they will soon be repatriated to North Korea.”

Dandong, a region in Liaoning Province in China, has a local detention center where many North Korean defectors are reportedly dragged by Chinese authorities before they are handed back to North Korea.

The source said the group included three minors.

“The underage defectors are 7 years old, 11 years old and 15 years old,” the source said. “We don’t know how many women are in the group.”

The source said the defectors were arrested by Chinese police officers on Friday morning while they were preparing to take a bus from Kunming, a city in southwest China, to a Southeast Asian country.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official told the Korea JoongAng Daily that there had been a total of 17 defectors in the beginning.

“A total of 17 defectors were on the trip, but two of them fled right before the others were arrested,” a South Korean Foreign Ministry official told the Korea JoongAng Daily by telephone. “So, now, 15 defectors are detained in China.”

“Some reports say there are now 13 defectors, but that’s not true,” the official added. “For the safety of the defectors, we can’t reveal any information on their identities.”

The Daily NK, an online news agency run by North Korean defectors in the South, cited some sources as saying that the Chinese police officers were dressed in plain clothes and secretly followed the defectors.

The sources claimed that the Chinese police were not in charge of Yunnan Province, but northern Liaoning Province.

The 15-member group also includes two ethnic Korean guides, who were in charge of the trip to Southeast Asia, the Daily NK and other media outlets reported.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, an official from the U.S. Department of State urged China not to repatriate the defectors to North Korea.

The official said China should abide by the international obligations to protect them as refugees in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

Reportedly, North Korean defectors sent back to the regime face brutal punishment, including execution. Some are used as propaganda tools for the Communist state, which claims they were “abducted” by South Korean spies in China.


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

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