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12 N.Korean Defectors Seek U.S. Asylum
12 N.Korean Defectors Arrive In U.S. To Seek Asylum, South Korean Activist Says

SEOUL, South Korea, Mar. 1, 2007

(AP) A group of 12 North Korean refugees has arrived in the United States to seek asylum, a South Korean activist said Thursday _ the largest group from the communist nation to have recently defected there.

Chun Ki-won, director of the Durihana Mission group that has previously arranged North Koreans' travel to the U.S., told The Associated Press that the latest arrivals brought to 30 the number of North Koreans who have sought refuge in the U.S. under a 2004 law.

He said the refugees had arrived Wednesday night but did not give their exact location. Chun said the North Koreans departed from a Southeast Asian country but declined to elaborate, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The group includes two males and 10 females ages 7 to 55, the activist said. One had been living in South Korea's Embassy in Beijing for about a year.

Some activist groups have accused the U.S. of being slow to help North Koreans under the 2004 North Korea Human Rights Act, which mandates that they be offered asylum and other assistance. It also calls for efforts to improve North Korea's widely criticized rights situation, such as through expanded broadcasts into the North.

Thousands of North Koreans are believed to be living in hiding in China, which treats them as economic migrants and _ if caught _ returns them to their homeland, where they face likely imprisonment and possible torture.

Many North Koreans seek asylum in South Korea, which has accepted about 10,000 of them since the 1953 end of the Korean War. Most have arrived in recent years to escape a famine in the North that began in the 1990s and has killed up to 2 million people.

The two Koreas remain technically at war and their border is one of the world's most heavily fortified. North Koreans seeking refuge usually escape through their country's loosely controlled northern frontier with China.



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