Sunday, June 17, 2007

Four North Koreans get their wish

Source: CNN, June 15, 2007.

TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Four North Koreans who arrived by boat at a Japanese port two weeks ago left Japan on Saturday for South Korea, their desired destination, police said.

Three men and a woman taken into custody in northern Japan on June 2, believed to be a couple and their two adult sons, arrived in a small wooden boat after a sea journey they said had begun on May 27.

The four said they wished to go to South Korea, and Japanese officials had said they would be treated sympathetically. (Full story.)

A police spokesman at Narita airport, just east of Tokyo, said the four had departed on Saturday morning for South Korea.

NHK public television showed the family boarding the plane, their faces concealed by blankets. The plane left shortly before 10 a.m. (0100 GMT).

The four told police they left Chongjin on the east coast of North Korea and headed south, but changed course due to heavy security and ended up at Fukaura in Japan's northern Aomori prefecture, 800 km (500 miles) to the east.

They were quoted in the media as saying that they were lucky to be able to eat bread every other day. But local media reports said they were wearing wristwatches, raising questions about how poor they actually were.

Some North Korea watchers said the watches suggested they might be middle class and their departure hinted at growing frustration among middle class North Koreans since the poor couldn't leave and the elite wouldn't need to.

Japan can grant asylum seekers a six-month permit under its immigration law, and a 2006 "North Korean human rights law" also states the government must take measures to protect and support defectors from North Korea.

North Korean defectors have fled to Japanese missions and other premises in China in the past, and Tokyo has allowed them to leave for third countries, but it is rare for North Koreans to flee to Japan.

Their arrival had raised concerns that relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang -- which have no diplomatic ties -- could worsen if North Korea demanded their return, but no such demands were made.

Japan is feuding with North Korea over the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped decades ago by Pyongyang's agents to help train spies.

Abe has said that without a resolution to the abduction issue, Japan will not provide funds for a multilateral deal reached in February under which North Korea agreed to scrap its nuclear arms program in return for energy aid.

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