North Korean repeat defector Kim Kwang-ho and his family arrived in South Korea recently, but his sister- and brother-in-law who are still held in China face being sent back to the North.
A diplomatic source in Seoul on Monday said the South Korean government is trying to bring the couple to the South but cannot guarantee this. "North Korea will do everything it can to get them back," the source said.
Chinese authorities arrested the five North Koreans in Yanji on July 14 and apparently interrogated them separately. Kim, his wife and daughter hold South Korean passports from their last defection, but his brother- and sister-in-law are first-time defectors and do not.
There are reports that the two have already been taken to a facility in Tumen, where North Korean defectors are prepared for repatriation. But a government source here would not comment, saying only, "The government is trying its best to solve the problem."
Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyoung in a press release expressed relief that Kim and his family have returned to South Korea but added the hope that the latest defection would prompt a "shift in attitude" by the Chinese government in how it views and deals with North Korean defectors.
"I hope that the Chinese government will take a humanitarian approach to help Kim's brother- and sister-in-law who remain there," Ha said.
Meanwhile, Kim could now face prosecution in South Korea as officials here investigate how and why he returned to North Korea and defect again. Kim was paraded before North Korea's state media in January and accused South Korea of luring him away. He claimed he could no longer live in the South where "trickery" was rampant.
When he defected again in July, Kim claimed he returned to North Korea with the aid of civic groups to rescue his remaining family there. He also claimed that he appeared on state TV because he was coerced by officials in the North. But skeptics doubt Kim's account since he returned to the North with his wife and baby daughter.
The decades-old National Security Law stipulates a prison term of up to 10 years if a South Korean citizen visits North Korea without authorization. Since Kim appeared on TV to criticize South Korea, he also violated an article of the law which prohibits South Korean citizens from praising the North. The offense carries a maximum seven-year sentence.