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N Korea tells S Korea to hand over refugees

Last Updated: Thursday, June 16, 2011 - 21:56

Seoul: North Korea on Thursday demanded the
return of nine of its citizens who defected by boat and warned
that cross-border relations would suffer otherwise, Seoul
officials said.

The three men, two women and four children crossed the
tense Yellow Sea border last Saturday in two small boats.
Media reports say they want to defect, and the South
says they are free to choose whether to stay or to return

The North`s Red Cross sent a message to its South
Korean counterpart to demand the return of the nine
immediately, Seoul`s unification ministry, which handles
cross-border affairs, said in a statement.

Failure to do so could further damage relations, the
message added.

The arrival in February of a boatload of North Koreans
sparked weeks of acrimony. That boat drifted across the Yellow
Sea border in thick fog, possibly accidentally.

Seoul returned 27 of the 31 people on board but
refused to hand over the other four, saying they had freely
chosen to stay in the South.

Pyongyang complained bitterly that the four had been
pressured to stay and publicised appeals from their relatives
for them to come home.

The latest incident comes at a time of high
cross-border tensions, after the North announced it was
breaking all contacts with the South`s government.

The North`s military has threatened an attack in
protest at a move by some South Korean troops to use photos of
Pyongyang`s ruling family as rifle-range targets.

The practice has been stopped but the North is
demanding an apology.

However, one analyst said he did not believe the
latest defection would seriously aggravate the situation.


First Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011 - 21:56

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