Park to Ask China to Protect N.Korean Defectors

      May 31, 2013 12:17

      President Park Geun-hye will urge the Chinese government to protect North Korean defectors hiding out in China when she visits Beijing next month, a high-ranking government official said Thursday.

      The move follows the cloak-and-dagger extraction of nine young North Korean refugees from Laos via China by North Korean agents.

      "We are looking into adding the issue to the agenda" for Park's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the official said.

      The summit takes place at the end of June.

      A group of young North Korean refugees are seen in this photo from a defector who spent time with them in China before coming to Seoul. Those whose faces are blurred made it safely to South Korea, but the others were taken back to North Korea in a high-profile operation on Tuesday. The defector who provided the photo said they are smaller than average South Korean children due to malnutrition.

      In an interview with the Washington Post during her visit to the U.S. early this month, Park said North Korean defectors should not be repatriated to the repressive country and her government hopes China will send them to Seoul.

      When 31 North Koreans who defected to China faced deportation back to the North in February of last year, Park wrote to then-Chinese President Hu Jintao urging him to treat them humanely.

      But the government does not blame China for the fate of the nine defectors, since they were deported from Laos and merely transited through Kunming and Beijing on valid visas on their way back to North Korea.

      "They stayed in China for such a short time that it is unclear whether China assisted in their trip back to the North," a Cheong Wa Dae official said. "We can't raise this particular incident during the summit."

      Instead, the Foreign Ministry lodged an official complaint with Laos for deporting the nine North Koreans. Another Cheong Wa Dae official said Seoul is looking into why North Korea went to such lengths to bring back the defectors, who had taken an established and relatively safe refugee trail via Laos to seek freedom in South Korea.

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