October 22, 2009 / 6:27 AM / 10 years ago

China forces POW relatives back to N.Korea-activist

(Updates with South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, paragraphs 6-7)

SEOUL, Oct 22 (Reuters) - South Korea’s consulate in a Chinese city has been flooded with North Korean refugees and two who were put up in a motel have been captured and sent back to the reclusive state, an activist said on Thursday.

The pair, a daughter and a granddaughter of a South Korean prisoner of war who escaped the North eight years ago, were rounded up in a sweep by Chinese police in Shenyang last month, activist Choi Sung-yong said in Seoul.

"China deserves to be condemned for this, but they do it over and over," said Choi, a well-known campaigner for the return of civilians abducted by the North and prisoners not returned after the 1950-53 Korean War. South Korea puts the number of such people at more than 1,000.

China sees the North Korean defectors as economic refugees and forcibly returns them to the North, where they face life-threatening conditions in the country’s brutal prisons.

Choi said blame also rested with the South Korean government for failing to protect the refugees and ensuring they were brought to the South.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry denied that anyone who sought asylum with its consulate in Shenyang had been put up in a motel.

"It’s not true that some were made to stay at a motel because we were short of facilities at the consulate," ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said but declined to comment further on the case.

The South Korean consulate in Shenyang, near the border with North Korea, is overrun with North Korean refugees seeking asylum in the South and it has little choice but to put some of them up in motels outside its grounds, Choi said.

Activists say hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have escaped their country via various Chinese cities and Southeast Asian countries.

Nine North Koreans who entered the Danish embassy in Hanoi a month ago were allowed to leave Vietnam this week, the Foreign Ministry there said. They likely have arrived in the South. [ID:nHAN529401]

More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, almost all in the past 10 years, according to the South’s Unification Ministry. (Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner and Bill Tarrant)

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