Newspaper article International New York Times

South Korea Says It's Trying to Halt Refugees' Return to North ; Government Seeks to Aid Group, Including a Baby, Thought to Be in China

Newspaper article International New York Times

South Korea Says It's Trying to Halt Refugees' Return to North ; Government Seeks to Aid Group, Including a Baby, Thought to Be in China

Article excerpt

The president's office said that her government was trying to secure the freedom of nine North Koreans, caught fleeing via Vietnam and now believed held by China.

The office of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said Wednesday that her government was trying to secure the freedom of nine North Koreans, including a baby, who a rights group said were in danger of being sent back from China to face harsh punishment for leaving the North.

"Our government is mobilizing all its diplomatic efforts to ensure that the North Koreans won't be forcibly repatriated to the North against their will and that they can travel safely and swiftly to the country of their choice," said Chun Hye-ran, a spokeswoman for Ms. Park.

The statement came after an appeal from the group, Human Rights Watch, earlier Wednesday for Ms. Park to put pressure on China to free the North Koreans, who are believed to be held in a Chinese military garrison near the North Korean border.

"Time is running out for these nine refugees, so President Park needs to immediately press China's government to ensure this group is not sent back into harm's way," said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. "No one should forget that if this group is handed over, they will likely disappear into a North Korean prison camp system characterized by torture, violence and severe deprivation."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The North Koreans were detained by the Vietnamese police on Oct. 22 in Mong Cai, near the Chinese border, after the bus they were on was stopped for a random check, according to Human Rights Watch, which cited accounts from the North Koreans' relatives in South Korea. Two days later, they were handed over to the police in Dongxing, in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi, the rights group said.

One of the nine North Koreans is an 11-month-old baby, Human Rights Watch said.

On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for the North Koreans, saying that they might already have been returned to their home country, where "they would be at risk of very serious human rights violations. …

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