SEOUL, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Russia and North Korea are expected to step up the repatriation of North Korean refugees in Russia, after the two sides agreed to take measures against "illegal immigrants" on both sides of their border.
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Friday the agreement is to be signed on Feb. 2, and would play a role in the repatriation of "illegal" persons, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Human rights organizations have said the impending agreement and an extradition treaty signed in November target North Koreans in Russia for deportation, and that North Koreans who are repatriated face grave punishment, including execution or a sentence of forced labor.
The announcement comes at a time when the North's Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk is headed to Russia with an entourage of officials, according to Pyongyang's state-controlled KCNA.
While North Korea did not provide a reason for the visit, Yonhap reported the North Korean envoy is seeking Russia's support against an international effort to pass tougher sanctions against Pyongyang after its announced fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.
Russia and China are members of the United Nations Security Council and have maintained a traditional alliance with the North despite past provocations.
South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Friday the North has also sent an envoy to Beijing.
Quoting an anonymous source in China, the newspaper reported Choi Son Hui, deputy director-general of the foreign ministry's American affairs bureau, had arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport on Thursday.
Choi, who served as an interpreter for Bill Clinton during his August 2009 visit to Pyongyang, was most likely in China to seek assistance against the rising wave of international support for North Korea sanctions.