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Sunday, August 27, 2006


Thailand detains North Koreans

Scores of asylum seekers won't be forcibly deported.
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Thai authorities arrested and charged nearly 200 North Korean asylum seekers with illegal entry after they were smuggled into the country but they will not be forcibly deported, officials said Wednesday.

The 175 North Koreans arrested Tuesday fled from their communist homeland and were hiding in a house in a suburb of the Thai capital, Bangkok, police said. They were the largest group of North Koreans ever arrested in Thailand.

Thai foreign ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinondh said the government considers this a human smuggling case and is "unhappy that Thailand has been used as a transit point."

Thousands of North Koreans, facing hunger and repression in their homeland, have made their way abroad in recent years, many taking a long and risky land journey through China to arrive in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries. They usually seek asylum at the embassies of third countries, though many are believed to be in hiding.

Officers raided the house after receiving a tip-off from neighbors and took the 37 men, 128 women and 10 children into custody, police Col. Songphol Wattanachai said.

The chief of immigration police, Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, said the asylum seekers were charged with illegal entry and their case would be heard by a court on Thursday.

If the court rules they entered illegally, they will be deported, Suwat said. However, they will not be forced to return to North Korea and authorities will consult with humanitarian organizations to determine where they should be sent, he said.

It "depends on them. They have to sign a document of consent as to whether they are willing to return home," Suwat said.

Suwat said police were investigating who had arranged the smuggling of the North Koreans into Thailand.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey said her agency considers the 175 North Koreans "people of concern," and that 16 of them are scheduled to go to South Korea.

"We are in consultation with the Thai government, and we hope to find a humane solution for all 175 people," McKinsey said. "The Thai government has an excellent humanitarian record, and we have no reason to think that they are going to deport these people."

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said South Korea "will review steps to be taken in consultation with the Thai government" regarding the arrest of the North Koreans. Ban told a regular news briefing Seoul is trying to get a clear picture of the issue through the South Korean Embassy in Thailand.

Songphol said the North Koreans had entered Thailand in separate groups through the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai, and had been staying in the two-story house for the past two months.

"They are seeking asylum in a third country, preferably South Korea," Songphol said.

Thai immigration police said the number of North Koreans who entered the country illegally increased to 400 this year from 80 last year.

Previous arrests of North Koreans in Thailand have usually been of small groups still trying to make their way to Bangkok from the north, or trying to enter embassies or contact the U.N. refugee office.

The Thai government has tried to discourage North Koreans from using Thailand to seek asylum, fearing it could cause diplomatic tensions with North Korea.

This has been written by CNN. It has been rewritten by me, because everytime I send someone to this link it is gone. Grr.

Category: Thailand, North Korea and Human Rights.

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