S. Korea considers raising issue of N. Korean defectors in China at U.N.

February 21, 2012 11:43 am 

SEOUL, Feb. 21 — South Korea is considering raising the issue of North Korean defectors detained in China at a meeting of the U.N. refugee agency, an official said Tuesday, in what would be the latest effort to ratchet up pressure on Beijing to avoid forced repatriation of North Koreans.

Seoul has called on Beijing not to send back North Korean defectors held in China to their communist homeland, but it has grown frustrated with Beijing's longstanding policy of turning a blind eye to the calls. About 30 North Korean defectors were reportedly caught by Chinese authorities this month and awaiting repatriation to the North.

"We are considering bringing the issue of North Korean defectors held in China to the attention of the U.N. Human Rights Council," the senior official at Seoul's foreign ministry said on the condition of anonymity.

Ambassador Kim Bong-hyun, deputy minister for multilateral and global affairs, plans to attend the meeting of the U.N. refugee agency set for later this month, the official said.

In what appears to be a policy shift to step up efforts to avoid repatriation of North Korean defectors detained in China, South Korean officials said they will urge Beijing to comply with an international refugee law.

South Korea plans to convey its new call to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who is scheduled to visit Seoul early next month, Seoul officials said.

It was not immediately known how many North Korean defectors in China were facing repatriation and the South's foreign ministry said it could not confirm the number.

However, Rep. Park Sun-young of the conservative minor Liberty Forward Party has said about 30 North Korean defectors were caught by Chinese police on four separate occasions this month.

Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in South Korea, home to more than 23,000 North Korean defectors.

North Korean defectors face harsh punishments and even execution after being repatriated from China, which does not recognize them as asylum-seekers, according to defectors in South Korea and human rights activists.

Activists in Seoul said North Korea has toughened punishments for defectors since its new leader, Kim Jong-un, took the helm of Pyongyang following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.(PNA/Yonhap) scs/jnc

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