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N. Korea executed 4 defectors sent back from China: activist

North Korea has publicly executed four citizens who were recently repatriated from China after being caught by the Chinese authorities, a North Korean defector in South Korea claimed Monday.

   The four were among a group of 44 North Koreans who fled to China to avoid political oppression and chronic food shortages in the North, according to Kim Heung-kwang, the head of NK Intellectuals Solidarity, a Seoul-based defectors' group.

   Kim said the 40 others were sent to political prison camps after being repatriated from China. He said he obtained such information from an unidentified source inside North Korea, though he did not elaborate on details of the 44 defectors.

   China views North Korean defectors as "economic migrants," and not refugees, and typically sends them back to their communist homeland where they can face harsh punishment.

   The latest claim of the North's public executions could not be independently verified as the isolated country strictly restricts outside access.

   Kim made the claim in a seminar on a bill designed to help improve North Korea's dismal human rights record. A ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker recently submitted the bill to the National Assembly that also calls for South Korea to send humanitarian aid to North Koreans.

   The bill faced strong opposition from opposition lawmakers, however, who questioned its effectiveness.

   North Korea has long been accused of human rights abuses, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners to torture and public executions. Pyongyang denies the accusations, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime. (Yonhap News)