Reports: China Lets North Korean Defectors Travel to South

Posted April 4th, 2012 at 2:35 am (UTC-5)
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South Korean media report that five North Korean defectors have arrived in Seoul after spending almost three years in a South Korean consulate in Beijing.

It would be the first time in more than five years that China has allowed North Korean defectors hiding in a diplomatic mission to travel to the South, rather than sending them home. South Korean government officials contacted by VOA on Wednesday said they were unable to confirm the reports.

The reports say China first hinted at the decision during talks between Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Seoul last month.

Several of the reports speculate that China's action was intended as a signal to North Korea of its displeasure over Pyongyang's plans to launch a rocket later this month.

The reports identify three of the defectors as the daughter and grandchildren of a deceased South Korean soldier who was taken prisoner by the North during the 1950-53 Korean war.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reports that China has also permitted travel to Seoul by another five defectors who had been living at a South Korean consulate in Shenyang. The reports say South Korean officials are withholding the identities of most of the defectors out of concern for their security.

China is reported to be frustrated with North Korea over its decision to launch a space satellite between April 12 and 16, a move seen widely by its neighbors as cover for testing a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

The announcement unraveled months of careful diplomacy, much of it orchestrated by Beijing, aimed at securing a halt to North Korea's nuclear programs in exchange for large-scale deliveries of badly needed food aid.