Funeral for defectors to go ahead, six months late

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Funeral for defectors to go ahead, six months late

A state-run foundation supporting North Korean defectors said Monday it will press ahead with a funeral for a defector and her 6-year-old son this week, about four months after they were found dead.

The 42-year-old Han Sung-ok and her son, surnamed Kim, were found dead at their home in southern Seoul in late July, sparking widespread suspicion they starved to death two months earlier. Defectors groups launched strong protests, accusing the government of not taking proper care of defectors.

The government had planned to hold a funeral for them in cooperation with defectors groups but has not been able to do so as representatives of the groups rejected the plan unless the government accepts their demands for measures to better protect defectors.

On Monday, the Korea Hana Foundation said it will go ahead and hold a three-day funeral for the two from Tuesday, with memorial altars to be set up at six of the Korea Hana Foundation’s regional offices in areas surrounding Seoul.

Foundation officials said they can no longer wait for that cooperation from the defectors groups.

“As it has been six months since they died, we thought their final rest should no longer be delayed from a humanitarian point of view,” the foundation said in a release.

Representatives of defector groups, however, opposed the plan.

“[The government] has not implemented any terms of agreement with us. They had said that the representatives are the chief mourners and that every process of the funeral would be carried out upon agreement with the representatives,” a representative said.

Han and Kim’s deaths brought attention to the harsh living conditions confronting some North Korean defectors here, though the national forensic service failed to confirm the cause of their deaths due to the decomposition of the bodies.

North Korean defectors usually receive settlement support for five years from their arrival in the South, including help with obtaining homes, jobs and education.

Much of the support, however, is not available after the five-year period or after they land a job, which critics say could make those people lacking a social network and job stability vulnerable to poverty.

The foundation said it will continue discussions with defector groups and try its best to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

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