June 10, 2013 14:08
The South Korean Embassy in Laos is now sheltering about 20 North Korean defectors, including recent arrivals. The embassy on June 4 moved 18 defectors from a safe house to the embassy for their protection.
According to a diplomatic source, they include children, people with physical disabilities, and cancer patients. But most are in relatively good health.
Saenuiri Party lawmaker Kim Jae-won, who arrived in Vientiane on Thursday, met the 20 defectors at the embassy compound in the afternoon.
"All defectors know" that Laos sent back the nine mostly orphaned defectors, Kim told reporters on Friday. "They have been resting since they were moved to the embassy compound and look forward to going to South Korea as soon as possible."
But their wish is not likely to be realized soon. North Korean defectors, even under the protection of the South Korean Embassy, have to be interviewed by Lao authorities, get travel permits and pay fines of $300 for illegal entry to leave the country.
"The Lao government has halted all the procedures dealing with North Korean defectors since the nine young North Korean were arrested and deported," Kim said. "It's unclear when it will resume the job and try to interview the defectors now waiting in the embassy."
Laos has not commented on what it will do about the defectors in the embassy.
Earlier, the Lao government denounced a South Korean pastor and his wife who helped the nine deported youngsters cross into Laos from China.
Kim said that he met with the Lao head of the South Korea-Laos parliamentarians union and asked for continued cooperation on North Korean defectors given the relations between the two sides. Lao leaders told him they want friendly relations to continue, "but they clearly weren't promising anything concrete," Kim added.
An activist working for North Korean defectors said, "We fear that it'll take some time for the 20-odd defectors in the embassy to make their way to South Korea because Laos still hasn't articulated its position on defectors from North Korea."
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