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N. Korea tightens border controls to curb flow of defectors

2015/02/10 18:02

BEIJING, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has tightened its patrols on the border with China and toughened punishments for those who help North Koreans flee the authoritarian state in a bid to curb the flow of defectors, a human rights group said Tuesday.

Most North Koreans typically escape their country via the North's border with China, which regards them as illegal immigrants, not refugees, and regularly sends them back to the North.

North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, who took power about three years ago, is also stepping up efforts to suppress news from the outside world, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

Citing recent interviews with nine North Koreans who still maintain regular communication with people in North Korea, Robertson said, "North Korean authorities are using brutal punishments to shut the door on people fleeing the country, and cracking down on those who share information with the outside world."

   "Kim Jong-un is trying to silence news of his systemic and pervasive rights crimes by going after the messengers, such as people with connections in South Korea or those who can help North Koreans flee there," Robertson said.

In the summer of 2014, arrests of North Koreans transiting the country on their way to South Korea resulted in more than 40 escapees ending up in Chinese custody, according to the statement.

Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to a third country before resettling in South Korea, home to more than 26,000 North Korean defectors.

Park Na-hyun, a female North Korean broker who helps bring North Koreans to South Korea, told Human Rights Watch that her activities "decreased by 80 to 90 percent over the last two years and it became harder to find people willing to work with her."

   "I lost most of my contacts in North Korea and in China since 2013. It does not matter how much money you can pay or what contacts you have, many of the people I worked with are in political prison camps in North Korea or going through trials if they are Chinese," said Park, who used a pseudonym to protect her identity.