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S. Korean diplomats to discuss N.K. defector issues

2013/06/02 10:24

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- In the wake of the recent repatriation of a group of young North Korean defectors from Laos, South Korean diplomats in overseas missions plan to hold a meeting to discuss follow-up measures and ways to better deal with the sensitive issue, government sources here said Sunday.

The nine North Koreans, aged between 15 and 23, fled their country in 2011. They hid in China before moving to Laos in hopes of settling in South Korea, but they were rounded up there by authorities on May 10.

South Korea had appealed to both Laos and China to send them to Seoul, but the plea was rejected. They were deported to China on May 27, and the following day flown home.

"A meeting involving (South Korean) officials in charge of defector issues in overseas diplomatic missions is planned in mid-June. They will review the Lao case and discuss follow-up measures," said a government official here, requesting anonymity.

The meeting is scheduled to be held in one of South Korea's diplomatic offices in East Asia, he added.

South Korean diplomats in East Asian countries often used by North Koreans as major defection routes have held similar meetings on a regular basis to exchange information and discuss ways to better protect and manage the defectors.

"Officials this time would re-examine an overall cooperative mechanism with each other and with Asian countries to prevent such a case from happening again," another ministry official said.

"After all, this Lao case is very rare in many aspects -- they were repatriated to Pyongyang by plane and Laos suddenly changed its mind to deport them in contrast to the earlier positive impression it gave South Korea about a smooth solution," he said.

Diplomatic sources in Seoul say at least one North Korean agent was on board the Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang with the defectors, indicating that the North Korean government was involved in the deportation.

Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Laos, Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries before landing in South Korea, which is home to more than 25,000 North Korean defectors.

graceoh@yna.co.kr

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