Nine young defectors who had attempted to reach South Korea via China and Laos have been taken back to North Korea by agents of the repressive regime.
They now face internment in a concentration camp or even public execution in the country they tried to escape.
The nine defectors were taken under escort from Laos to Kunming and to Beijing on Monday. They were then repatriated to Pyongyang via Air Koryo on Tuesday, according to South Korean government officials.
Nine North Korean agents with diplomatic passports escorted them on the flights from Laos to Beijing.
The government here only found out a day after they had been taken back.
Earlier, a group aiding North Korean defectors accused the South Korean embassy in Laos of doing nothing to help the nine young refugees, who are between 15 and 23 years old, even as North Korea apparently furiously lobbied Vientiane for their return.
A source said the nine will probably be used for propaganda purposes, and it cannot be ruled out that they will be executed.
Seoul is now minded to bring the case to the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
"The Foreign Ministry is seriously thinking about reporting this case to the UNHCR and appeal to the international community," a diplomatic source in Seoul said. "The ministry will elaborate on issues like the harsh punishment of repatriated defectors in the North."