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(LEAD) (World Cup) N. Korean footballers suspected missing accounted for: FIFA official

All Headlines 17:14 June 18, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with backgrounds, comments from South Korean embassy; RESTRUCTURES)
By Tony Chang

JOHANNESBURG, June 18 (Yonhap) -- The four North Korean World Cup footballers once reported missing have all been accounted for and are currently with their team, a FIFA official said Friday.

In its group opener with Brazil on Tuesday, which it lost 1-2, four players -- forward An Chol-Hyok, goalkeeper Kim Myong-won, and midfielders Kim Kyong-il and Pak Sung-hyok -- were listed as absent on the official roster provided by FIFA, which sparked speculation by some South Korean media that they had tried to seek asylum.

"The report appears to be based on a rumor that began by a clerical error at the North Korea-Brazil match," Gordon Watson, a FIFA media officer, told Yonhap News Agency over the phone. "I met the (North Korean) delegation last night and was informed that the players were with the team."

"Apparently the four players were with the team's technical group by the bench," he said.

North Korea initially submitted the full list of its 23-man squad as available for the game but the number was revised to 19 on the match day.

"There are no dramatic events here and it was a genuine human error," Watson said when asked whether the players may have sought asylum through foreign embassies here.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled to settle either in South Korea, China or other countries since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to statistics from the Seoul government. Nearly 70 percent of them said they fled their country to seek economic freedom.

The North Korean team was set to hold a press conference at the Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa, near Johannesburg, Watson said.

An official at the South Korean embassy here said they haven't picked up any out-of-the-ordinary movements regarding the North Korean squad.

North Korea is one of the 32 finalists at the South African World Cup, making a comeback to the tournament for the first time in 44 years. The country ranks 105th among FIFA members, the lowest among the 32 World Cup finalists this year.


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