N Korean ‘defector’ goes home


A North Korean engineer who said he was forced to travel to South Korea against his will on a boat with 20 defectors has returned home to the Stalinist state.

Boat engineer Ri Kyong-song, 33, told South Korean officials that he had been detained against his will and wanted to be reunited with his family in the North.

Mr Ri walked back into North Korea on Wednesday, passing through the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

“Long live our great general!” Mr Ri called out as he crossed, referring to the North’s leader Kim Jong-il,

The 20 other North Koreans have sought asylum in the South.

The group had left North Korea by boat on Saturday and spent two days at sea before being intercepted by South Korean maritime officials.

It was the first direct maritime defection between the two Koreas in five years.

Tied up

South Korean officials said Mr Ri had made it clear that he was forced to travel to the South against his will and wanted to join the rest of his family in the North.

He told investigators that he had been imprisoned and tied up on the boat by other families who wanted to defect from the Communist state.

The head of the North Korean Red Cross had urged officials in the South to allow Mr Ri’s swift return on humanitarian grounds.

Both nations still remain technically at war, and share one of the world’s most heavily fortified land frontiers.

But despite the difficulties, the number of North Koreans reaching the South and seeking asylum continues to roughly double each year.

Nearly 600 have defected to the South this year, escaping food shortages and political repression in the North.

Aid groups estimate that tens of thousands of North Koreans are sheltering illegally in China, which shares a porous border with the North.

Beijing does not recognise them as refugees and has tended to send those caught back to North Korea.


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