China to let N Koreans leave for S Korea
Seoul - Some of the North Korean fugitives who have taken refuge for many months in South Korean consulates in China will soon be allowed by Beijing to leave for Seoul, a report said on Wednesday.
About five or six - including a family of three who have been living in a consulate in Beijing - will soon depart, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as saying.
A South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said no firm decision had been made yet about their fate.
A total of 11 North Koreans have been living in three consulates in Beijing, Shenyang and Shanghai for between nine and 30 months, the daily said.
They include a daughter of a former South Korean soldier who was taken prisoner during the 1950-53 war and her two children, it said.
"The Chinese government has an internal policy guideline, under which North Koreans who have been living in South Korean consular offices for 30 months or more will be allowed to leave the country," a diplomatic source told the daily.
"Other North Koreans arrested across Chinese territory will be repatriated to the North under this guideline," the source said.
China's policy is to treat fugitives from North Korea as economic migrants and to send them back, even though they can face harsh punishment in their homeland.
South Korea, the UN refugee agency and rights watchdog Amnesty International say they should be treated as potential refugees.
Chinese President Hu Jintao met President Lee Myung-Bak on Monday on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Seoul.
They agreed to settle the thorny issue of North Korean fugitives in line with humanitarian principles, with both countries giving consideration to each other's position, according to a top South Korean official.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty or repression in the North.
Almost all of them cross first to China. Many hide out and then try to travel on to Southeast Asian nations before flying to the South.