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S. Korea to break ground for new resettlement facility for N. Korean defectors

All Headlines 10:20 July 07, 2011

HWACHEON, South Korea, July 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea was to break ground Thursday for a new facility to accommodate a growing number of North Korean defectors seeking a new life in the South, officials said.

The move underscores the continued stream of North Koreans who undergo the risky journey to South Korea to avoid chronic food shortages and harsh political oppression despite fierce crackdowns on North Korean refugees by Pyongyang and Beijing.

China repatriates North Korean defectors back to their homeland, where they could face harsh punishment and even execution.

Still, tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in South Korea, home to more than 21,800 North Korean defectors.

The ministry expects about 2,000 other North Korean defectors to come to the South by the end of this year.

South Korea has already been running a key resettlement center, known as Hanawon near Seoul, to help the defectors better adjust to life in the capitalist South.

It has also rented a private facility to accommodate the North Koreans. Still the two current facilities are running at full capacity, prompting Seoul to build another resettlement center in Hwacheon, about 118 kilometers northeast of Seoul.

The new facility, set to be built by the end of next year, would not only offer three months of mandatory resettlement training for defectors but also provide re-education for North Korean professionals who already completed the basic training, according to officials.

The groundbreaking ceremony comes weeks after a high-profile defection by nine North Koreans aboard two engineless boats via the tense western sea border.

South Korea has suggested that it will not return the nine North Korean defectors to their homeland despite Pyongyang's warnings of damage to inter-Korean relations.

Defections are a constant irritant to inter-Korean relations, which have already worsened since the North's two deadly attacks on the South last year that killed 50 South Koreans.

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