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2008/03/28 10:31 KST
(LEAD) Twelve presumed N.K. defectors enter embassy in Laos

   HANOI/SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- Twelve people believed to be North Korean defectors have forced their way into the South Korean embassy in Laos, the embassy said Friday.

   Eleven females and one male, who claimed to be North Koreans, entered the embassy at around 11 a.m. Thursday, it said.

   "We're going to respect what they want based on humanitarianism and international customs," the South Korean Ambassador to Vientiane Park Jae-hyun told Yonhap News Agency by phone.

   He said the people are now in good condition and under the embassy's custody. However, he did not specify whether the presumed defectors expressed hope to settle in South Korea.

   Also on Friday, the U.S.-based radio station Voice of America reported on the group's action, citing four international human rights groups helping them.

   The rights groups indicated the defectors want to travel to South Korea, saying in a statement that they hope the Laotian government will help the defectors safely leave for South Korea.

   An increasing number of North Koreans are arriving in Southeast Asian countries via China with the aim of settling in South Korea or another country to escape political oppression and famine in their homeland. China does not recognize them as refugees but as economic migrants under an agreement with its communist ally North Korea.

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