China has allowed six North Korean refugees to leave for South Korea after they spent months holed up in Seoul’s consular offices in China, news reports said yesterday.
Following their departure last week there are no more North Koreans left at South Korean diplomatic missions in China, the Korea JoongAng Daily and the Seoul Shinmun daily said.
A South Korean foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to comment.
Beijing allowed the six defectors, who had been holed up at the South Korean missions in Shenyang and Shanghai for many months, to travel to the South through a third country, the dailies said, quoting sources.
China’s decision to let the defectors leave was apparently made as a goodwill gesture before a meeting between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), the Korea JoongAng Daily said.
Lee met Hu on Monday in Beijing following an annual trilateral summit with China and Japan.
The six included two relatives of a South Korean prisoner of war, captured by the North during the 1950-1953 Korean War. Of the remaining four, two were identified as men and two as women, the reports said.
China last month reportedly allowed another five North Korean defectors to leave for South Korea after they were confined to Seoul’s Beijing embassy to avoid arrest. Some spent months there but others spent years.
China arrests and repatriates fugitives from North Korea, considering them to be economic migrants rather than potential refugees. South Korea and international rights groups have urged it to change the policy, saying returnees can face harsh punishment.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty or repression in their homeland, almost all of them across the border to China.
Some hide out among — or marry into — the ethnic Korean community in China’s northeast. Others try to travel on to Southeast Asian nations before flying to Seoul.