SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea has held a press conference with nine people it says are the young refugees controversially repatriated from Laos last year, state media confirmed, in a further bid to refute claims they had been imprisoned and executed.
The group, then aged 15 to 19, were arrested in Laos in May 2013 and eventually returned to the North via China, despite pleas by Seoul and the UN against their repatriation due to concerns for their safety once they returned to their repressive homeland.
It was not clear exactly when they had escaped from North Korea.
The North is seeking to avoid any fresh criticism of its human rights record ahead of a key UN vote on December 18 on a resolution that recommends referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court on possible charges of crimes against humanity.
The press conference in Pyongyang Friday was organised in order to reveal “the absurdity” of such “outrageous” allegations by US and South Korean ‘human rights tricksters’, a master of ceremonies was quoted as saying at the event by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.
Earlier this month, a former Seoul lawmaker said that the two eldest refugees – Mun Chol and Paek Yong-Won – had been executed on their return and the others sent to a prison camp.