Three teenage North Korean defectors, Choi Hyang, Choi Hyuk and Choi Hyang-mi, were released from a detention center in Laos on Tuesday and are now under the protection of the South Korean Embassy there.
"We will respect the defectors' wishes and they will travel to South Korea or the U.S. through the proper procedures in the near future," a senior South Korean Embassy official said.
The three were arrested at the end of November and held on smuggling charges. They are in poor health after their long detention in the hot weather. An official said Choi Hyuk was hospitalized for nausea on April 16, and the other two have been complaining of stomach and chest pains.
The defectors previously said they wanted to go to South Korea, scared that they would be forcibly repatriated to the North after meeting with a North Korean embassy official. Now they are reportedly asking to go to the U.S. as was their original plan.