Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

N. Korea pulls envoy in defection protest

AP , SEOUL

North Korea has recalled its ambassador to a Southeast Asian country to protest a recent mass defection of its citizens to South Korea, according to media reports.

Last month, some 460 North Koreans arrived in South Korea in two planeloads in an operation shrouded in secrecy. The North Koreans are believed to have fled their land via its border with China before heading to the country, which the media reports did not name.

South Korean government officials have declined to reveal the nation that acted as a conduit for the defectors, but North Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman early this month lashed at Vietnam for helping with the defection. The spokesman said North Korea has sufficient evidence that Vietnam took part in what it called the "kidnapping" act.

Since then, North Korea has issued angry remarks and called for the return of the defectors.

In its latest protest, North Korea has recalled its ambassador to the unnamed country for helping the defectors enter South Korea, Seoul's Chosun Ilbo said.

The newspaper, citing a diplomatic source in Beijing, said North Korea has threatened to pull out the rest of its diplomatic officials if the country doesn't apologize and take measures to prevent such things from happening again.

Also yesterday, inter-Korean economic talks were canceled after the North refused to respond to earlier calls by South Korea to prepare for the talks.

Last month's defection was by far the largest in what has become a steady stream in recent years as North Koreans flee repression and hunger in their country, which has depended on outside help to feed its 22 million people since 1995.

Most North Koreans flee across their country's long border with China, and human rights groups say hundreds have made their way to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries.

More than 5,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War. Last year, the number of defectors reached 1,285, up from 1,140 in 2002 and 583 in 2001.

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