SEOUL, April 6 (UPI) -- North Korea denied rumors that nine young defectors forcibly repatriated from Laos in 2013 were executed or imprisoned, claiming that some of the teens had enrolled in North Korean universities.
Yonhap reported that Pyongyang's state-controlled media outlet Choson Sinbo published photographs of the repatriated defectors. Two of the once homeless teenagers, Moon Chol and Pak Kwang Hyok, were said to have enrolled at Pyongyang University of Architecture and Kim Hyong Jik College of Education, respectively. A photograph of Moon and Pak holding bouquets of flowers before the front gate of their school accompanied the news.
Two other defectors, Chong Kwang Yong and Ryu Kwang Hyok, were photographed listening to a lecture. Chong, the story read, will enroll in Kim Chaek Institute of Technology and Ryu is due to enter Pyongyang University of Printing.
In December, North Korea staged a press conference at Pyongyang's Koryo Hall of Compatriots, and invited foreign journalists to attend.
During the event, nine North Koreans who Pyongyang claimed were the returned defectors made an appearance. North Korea held the press conference, reported Yonhap, in order to dispel South Korean rumors of their execution or imprisonment.
On Sunday, North Korea's Choson Sinbo blasted the rumors of their death or disappearance.
"South Korea's right-wing conservative media goes crazy at the opportunity at an inter-Korea dispute," said North Korea, according to South Korean television network SBS.
"There is no accusation more degenerate than claims the youths were executed or imprisoned."
But Mulmangcho, a South Korean NGO that also runs a school for North Korean youth refugees outside Seoul, said the December press conference was staged with actors whose accents and heights differed from the original defectors, and has requested an international investigation into the repatriated defectors.
On May 10, 2013, Laotian authorities near the Chinese border arrested the nine teenagers. By early June 2013, the U.N. confirmed the defectors had been forcibly repatriated to North Korea.
At the time, Laos released a statement saying the defectors ranged from 14 to 18 years of age, but refugee advocates said they were between 15 and 23 years of age.