(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in last 3 paras; ADDS image)
SEOUL, April 29 (Yonhap) -- Seven North Korean defectors are facing repatriation to their communist homeland from China, a civic group claimed Monday, calling for the Seoul government to help prevent their return.
The defectors include a 9-year-old girl identified by the surname Choe and her 32-year-old uncle, identified only as Kang, Justice for North Korea claimed. They had been hiding on the outskirts of Shenyang after crossing the Yalu River into China earlier this month, according to the group.
They and five other North Korean defectors staying there are facing repatriation to North Korea after they were recently arrested by Chinese authorities, it claimed.
Choe's mother, who lives in South Korea, reported their arrests to the South Korean consulate in Shenyang on Sunday, the group said, expressing concerns that the defectors could face serious punishment if sent back.
It called on South Korea to make diplomatic efforts to block their repatriation.
Seoul's foreign ministry said that it has been taking "necessary steps" regarding the defectors immediately after it learned of their situation.
But it said that it cannot elaborate on their status in consideration of their safety and diplomatic relations with China.
Conservative critics have accused Seoul of paying insufficient attention to the refugee issue to avoid straining ties with Pyongyang and hampering its push for inter-Korean rapprochement. Seoul has dismissed the criticism, saying it has been making due efforts to protect the defectors.
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