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Seoul rejects North Korean defector's request to return home

North Korea has demanded the defector be returned and accused the South of abductions.

By Elizabeth Shim
Seoul rejects North Korean defector's request to return home
North Korean women dressed in traditional dresses leave the restaurant they work at and head to the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, China. A 45-year-old North Korean woman and defector said in August she is seeking repatriation, but Seoul has denied the request, citing current South Korean law. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- South Korea said it cannot repatriate a North Korean defector who wishes to return home.

Kim Ryen-hi, 45, cannot return to North Korea because Seoul's current legal framework does not allow defectors to leave South Korea once they are naturalized, South Korean outlet Newsis reported.

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An unidentified Unification Ministry official said that upon her arrival in South Korea, Kim repeatedly confirmed her desire to defect, and there is "no evidence" to overturn her decision.

"We don't know what her reasons are, but after her defection we did confirm her will" to resettle in the South, the official said.

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North Korean propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri stated Monday that "South Korean authorities" should return all "abductees" and "forcibly interned" North Koreans, South Korean newspaper Herald Business reported.

"The South Korean authorities have torn apart a harmonious family...they must apologize for their crime against humanity, and the main culprits must be brought to justice," North Korea said. "Kim Ryen-hi must be allowed to return to the bosom of [North Korea], in accordance with her strong appeal."

Kim first came to South Korea in September 2011. During a press conference on Aug. 3, Kim said a broker she met in China tricked her into traveling to South Korea. The broker lured her with moneymaking opportunities in the South, and she said she belatedly learned that she could not return to China, after her defection was approved.

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Kim said the broker was actually an undercover South Korean spy, and because she was tricked into defecting, she retains her right to return to the North.

The New York Times reported in August that Kim is a convict on parole who was arrested and charged in July 2014 with espionage and passport fraud. According to Kim, she began spying for North Korea, collecting cellphone numbers of North Korean defectors so that Seoul would deport her. Kim was released on probation in April.

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