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(LEAD) S. Korea asked China not to deport N. Korean defectors: official

All Headlines 19:23 June 03, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with South Korean official's quotes, details; CHANGES headline, dateline)

SEOUL/BEIJING, June 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea had indeed asked China not to repatriate a group of nine young North Korean defectors last week, a senior Seoul official said Monday in an apparent rebuttal to a Chinese claim that no party had requested cooperation regarding the defectors.

The foreign ministry official made the remarks as the ministry has come under intense scrutiny for not taking proper action to help the North Koreans seeking asylum in South Korea.

The nine North Koreans -- seven boys and two girls -- were rounded up in Laos on May 10 for border trespassing. On May 27, they were expelled to China, from where they were deported last Tuesday to their communist home country, where they are certain to face harsh punishment, Seoul officials said.

"Shortly after the North Koreans were expelled to China on May 27, we had been in multiple contacts with the Chinese authorities to prevent them from being repatriated to North Korea," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

In Beijing on Monday, China's foreign ministry rebuked a U.N. refugee agency, which criticized both China and Laos for repatriating the North Koreans.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that the Chinese government had not received a request from any party for cooperation regarding the North Koreans.

Hong confirmed that the North Korean defectors were deported to China on May 27 with passports and visas and returned to North Korea the following day.

It was the first time that China officially clarified its stance on North Korean defectors.

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