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More N.Koreans executed for escape bids: Seoul spy agency

SEOUL, Jan 25 (AFP) - North Korea is imposing harsher punishments for people trying to flee the country, with the number of executions increasing, South Korea's spy agency said Monday.

The communist state "has recently toughened the punishment for escapees, with the number of executions on the rise," a spokesman for the National Intelligence Service told AFP.

The spokesman could not confirm a report in a South Korean Internet newspaper that three people had been executed and their families punished for an attempt to flee.

Daily NK said the punishments are part of a "50-day Battle" aimed at restoring order in society.

The paper, quoting a source in China, named those it said were victims in the case.

It said Jeong Dae-Sung, aged 35, escaped across the border to the Chinese town of Changbai last July along with his mother, wife Lee Ok-Geum, aged 32, and their daughters aged three and seven.

In August they were caught by Chinese police en route to Mongolia, from where they hoped to travel to South Korea, and were repatriated to the North.

Following a confession by Jeong, the paper said, a friend called Song Gwang-Cheol who had assisted the escape attempt was also arrested.

Jeong, his wife Lee and Song were all executed, Daily NK reported.

This month, it said, Jeong’s family was taken to a political prison camp while Song’s was exiled to the countryside.

The paper quoted its source as saying refugees normally face 7-15 years in a prison camp. The executions were part of a crackdown ordered to "sweep away anti-socialist elements," the source was quoted as saying.

A United Nations special envoy said this month that the North has been imposing harsher punishment on would-be refugees.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, said that in 2003 and 2004 offenders had been sent to labour camps instead of prisons, but that "slight mitigation" had been reversed.

"Now we get reports of serious punishment," Muntarbhorn said, citing the imprisonment of those repatriated, the "collective punishment" of their families and even possible executions in some cases.

China, in a policy widely criticised by rights groups, repatriates all those North Koreans it catches as economic migrants.

Almost 17,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the end of the Korean War, with virtually all fleeing first to China.

MySinchew 2010.01.25


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