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03 June 2013| last updated at 12:29PM
BANGKOK : Laos on Monday confirmed that it had handed nine young asylum seekers aged between 14 and 18 back to North Korea — a case that has alarmed human rights campaigners.
They were detained in the northwestern province of Oudomxay on May 10 for illegal entry, according to a foreign ministry statement emailed to AFP.
It said two South Korean nationals were detained at the same time for alleged human trafficking and handed over to the South Korean embassy. Lao officials were not available for further comment.
The UN has expressed strong concerns about the safety of the North Koreans, who were sent home via China last month.
The case has aroused strong public feeling in South Korea where critics have accused the foreign ministry of failing in its duty to protect the refugees once they reached Laos.
Most North Korean asylum seekers begin their escape by crossing into China and then try to make it to third countries — often in Southeast Asia — where they seek permission to resettle in South Korea.
If they are caught and returned to the North they can face severe punishment.– AFP