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Seoul bolsters efforts for N.K. defectors

Foreign minister expected to bring up the issue in meeting with Chinese counterpart


South Korean politicians and the government are adding their weight to calls for China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors.

The movement sparked by Rep. Park Sun-young of the conservative Liberty Forward Party is gaining support from lawmakers, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan is expected to bring up the issue during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Friday.

According to Foreign Ministry sources, discussions about the issue will be one of the main topics in the foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday in Seoul.

In addition, Kim is scheduled to visit the United Nations on March 7, where he is expected to request the U.N.’s involvement in the issue.

While South Korea is taking the matter to the U.N., the U.S. appears to be considering China’s treatment of North Korean defectors as a significant issue.

The U.S.’ Congressional-Executive Commission on China is set to hold a hearing on related issues on March 5.

However, such developments are already ruffling feathers in Beijing, which according to its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei is of the opinion that there is “insufficient evidence” to claims that North Koreans arrested in China are refugees.

On Wednesday, Hong said that the Chinese government does not want the issue to be discussed by international organizations, and that his government wants China’s judicial sovereignty to be respected.

Although China has stuck to the policy of repatriating North Korean defectors caught within its borders, the issue recently resurfaced as a hot topic for local politicians following the arrest of 34 defectors in February.

Following their arrest, Park began a hunger strike on Feb. 21 in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul in protest of China’s policies.

As part of her efforts, she also proposed a resolution against the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors, which was approved by the National Assembly on Feb. 27.

From Thursday, seven Saenuri Party lawmakers including Cha Myeong-jin and Shin Ji-ho began a relay protest to support Park’s efforts.

“The issue of North Korean defectors is one that requires concerted national opinion regardless of party affiliation and ideological differences,” Shin said.

“China needs to be made to stop the forced repatriation of defectors and to adhere to the convention relating to the status of refugees.”

The presidential office has also shown support for the efforts to move the Chinese government. On Wednesday, President Lee Myung-bak telephoned Park and expressed his support for her efforts.

According to Park, the president said the he was thankful and apologetic to her for “doing something that everyone should be doing and for creating a good opportunity.”

Lee is reported to have told the conservative politician that he will do his best to influence China to adhere to international standards in dealing with North Korean defectors.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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