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(5th LD) Nine defectors repatriated to N. Korea from China: official

All Headlines 17:56 May 29, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES with South Korean official saying nine North Korean defectors have been repatriated from China to the North)

SEOUL, May 29 (Yonhap) -- China appears to have repatriated nine North Korean defectors to their totalitarian homeland after they were caught in Laos and sent to Beijing early this week, a Seoul official said Wednesday, raising fears that they are likely to face harsh punishment.

The North Koreans, aged between 15 and 23, fled their country to Laos via China last month, but were forced to return to China on Monday after being rounded up by the Lao authorities on May 10. South Korea had asked Laos to send them to Seoul, but Laos rejected Seoul's plea.

"It is judged that the nine North Korean defectors were repatriated to North Korea on Tuesday afternoon through an Air Koryo flight," the senior foreign ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

While South Korea has asked China not to repatriate the North Koreans, Beijing's involvement in the case was limited because they have "appropriate travel documents," the official said.

South Korea plans to raise the deportation of the North Koreans at international organizations, the official said.


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