Thursday, February 08, 2007
Report: 120 North Korean political prisoners escapeSEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Some 120 inmates escaped from a political concentration camp in northeastern North Korea several months ago in an unprecedented prison break, news reports said Tuesday.
The prisoners escaped from Hwasong camp in North Hamgyong, a province close to the Chinese and Russian borders, in December, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based Internet news site focusing on North Korea, also carried a similar report on Tuesday.
Both reports cited multiple unnamed sources in North Korea.
An official at South Korea's Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korean affairs, said he was unable to confirm the reports but questioned their reliability. The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
News leaked from the reclusive North, which shuns outside access, is usually hard to confirm.
The Daily NK report said the area was put in a "state of emergency" after the prison break, calling it unprecedented.
North Korean authorities have since tightened inspections at Hwasong and adjacent cities to catch the fugitives, of whom 21 have so far been caught, the report said. So far, 21 prisoners have been caught, most of whom were found in China and sent back to the communist North after failed attempts to defect to South Korea, the report said.
The Hwasong prison camp -- located deep inside a mountain and encircled by high wire fences -- holds about 10,000 prisoners, Daily NK said. The escape seemed to have been carefully planned with outside help since the escapees drove off in a vehicle waiting outside the prison, according to the report.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps in the communist North for political reasons, according to U.S. government data.
Separately, Daily NK reported Sunday that 20 North Korean guards along the border with China had fled the country to avoid arrest for allegedly helping North Korean defectors cross the border.
The guards had fled to China, where the North sent intelligence officials to capture them, the report said, citing a North Korean resident.
Hundreds of North Koreans leave the country every year to escape poverty and political repression, usually through China. Defectors in South Korea say they usually bribe border guards to cross the border.