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China to take more time questioning N.K. defectors

Parliamentary panel adopts resolution urging China to stop sending N.K. defectors back home



The Chinese government informed the South Korean foreign ministry Thursday that it will take more time interrogating over 20 North Korean defectors or illegal aliens in its custody.

Beijing delivered its position through the South Korean embassy in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Seoul, a foreign ministry official said Thursday.

"As for the number of the aliens under probe, it seems to be less than 35, around 20 something," the official told reporters.

A South Korean lawmaker said during the parliamentary audit on the Unification Ministry Thursday morning that the North Korean defectors arrested by Chinese authorities last week were to be repatriated later in the day.

Shortly after Rep. Park Sun-young of the Liberty Forward Party broke the news, the National Assembly panel on foreign affairs, trade and unification adopted a resolution urging China to stop the repatriation of North Koreans and guarantee their human rights.

The resolution also calls on the Seoul government to be more proactive in making diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue of North Korean refugees.

The Chinese authorities last week arrested 35 people, including two South Korean citizens for illegal border crossing, but one of them, surnamed Hwang, was detained separately as he was suspected of violating a Chinese municipal law.

The other 34 people were detained in a facility between Yanbian and Tumen, which borders North Korea, sources said.

The other South Korean citizen, a woman surnamed Choi, might not be repatriated.

“The Chinese authorities began to treat South Korean citizens differently after South Korean news reports on the case,” a diplomatic source here said.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry sent an official covering Northeast Asia affairs named Hur Seung-jae to China Thursday morning to handle the issue.

More than 100 North Korean defectors who had sought asylum overseas despite holding South Korean citizenship returned to the South in the last five years, Rep. Jungwook Hong of the Grand National Party said Thursday.

Seoul’s diplomatic missions overseas issued 109 individual passports to North Korean defectors with South Korean citizenship in what appeared to be efforts to return to the South after fake asylum attempts were rejected or when life in foreign nations proved too difficult, even if asylum had been granted, Hong said.

Also on Thursday, a Japanese newspaper said that China has been holding three South Korean National Intelligence Service agents in custody for the past three months.

Tokyo Shimbun reported that the three NIS officials were detained in June and have not been released yet, citing multiple sources in Seoul.

The newspaper said that the three NIS officials entered China on tourist visas and collected information in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture before being arrested on spying charges.

The news comes less than three months after South Korean reports said two NIS agents have been under Chinese custody since October last year on the same charges.

The Seoul government tried to negotiate for their release, but Beijing was believed to react sensitively in consideration of its ally North Korea, intelligence officials said.

China had also indicted a South Korean army major in July 2009 on charges of illegal intelligence gathering and imprisoned him for a year before repatriation to South Korea last September.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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