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NK stops taking back defectors, monitors virus risks

By Choi Si-young

Published : Feb. 3, 2020 - 15:39

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Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea. (123rf) Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea. (123rf)
North Korea has temporary halted the repatriation of defectors from China, days after it suspended all train and air travel from and to the neighboring country, whose central city of Wuhan is the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 360 lives so far, Voice of America said Monday.

“From what I hear, Pyongyang isn’t accepting defectors. It asked Beijing not to (send them back) because of the recent coronavirus outbreak,” South Korean pastor Kim Sung-eun, who is well known for helping North Korean defectors, told VOA, citing Chinese police.

The flow of personnel and goods over the Tumen Border Bridge connecting the two countries has practically stopped too, VOA said, citing Chinese sources familiar with the issue. “But, smuggling won’t stop because the local black markets keep North Koreans alive. They could be diminished, though,” those sources said.

Also on Monday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said it had been closely monitoring people entering the country since Jan. 13. On Tuesday, Pyongyang announced nationwide emergency quarantine measures.

The country would exhaust its resources to contain the spread of the virus and keep its people updated on the latest developments on the outbreak, another state-run newspaper said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)