Saturday, April 14, 2007

Seoul's Mission in Laos 'Ignored Pleas From North Koreans'

The South Korean Embassy in Laos allegedly ignored pleas for help from three young North Koreans held by Lao authorities who could be deported to their Stalinist home country. Hiroshi Kato, the head of Japanese activist group Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, on Thursday revealed the identity of the young defectors and is working for their release. According to Kato, Choi Hyang, Choi Hyuk and Choi Hyang-mi are being held in a detention center near the capital Vientiane.

The three were caught by Lao border patrols in November 2006 while attempting to cross the Mekong River into Thailand. They were sentenced to three months in prison. Although the three completed their jail term, they are still being held in what is billed as protective custody.

According to Kato, North Korean Embassy officials verbally abused and threatened them, and they live in fear that they may be deported to North Korea. Kato has appealed to the U.S. and Japanese governments, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other human rights organizations for the release of the young North Korean defectors.

Korean expatriates in Laos asked the South Korean Embassy there to work for the release of the North Korean young people when they were arrested and completed the jail term. But no embassy officials visited the young refugees, Kato said.

[The Chosun Ilbo]

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