Park Young-sun, centre, lawmaker of main opposition Democratic Party in 2011.
Park Young-sun, centre, lawmaker of main opposition Democratic Party in 2011.

South Korea hunger striker collapses

Time of article published Mar 2, 2012

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A South Korean legislator staging a hunger strike outside China's embassy collapsed on Friday during a rally denouncing Beijing's repatriation of North Korean refugees.

Park Sun-Young from the conservative opposition Liberty Forward party, fainted on the 11th day of her fasting while leading the rally of about 100 religious and other activists.

“We want China to immediately stop repatriation,” they shouted as Park was carried to an ambulance, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

The rally came as visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-Hwan for talks on North Korea and other issues.

The ministers had agreed to “cooperate closely for the smooth settlement of problems” related to their repatriation, Kim's office said in a statement.

Kim urged China to deal with the refugees in line with international rules, while Yang opposed the “politicisation and internationalisation” of the issue, Yonhap news agency said.

Kim “emphasised that China should respect international laws in dealing with the issue of North Korean defectors, based on a humanitarian perspective and the principle of no forced repatriation,” an unnamed official was quoted as saying.

Yang said China regards North Korean escapees as economic migrants, not as refugees, but expressed hopes of resolving the issue through cooperation with Seoul, Yonhap said.

Park, 55, launched her fast on February 21, vowing to continue until death unless Beijing ends its policy of sending back North Korean escapees rather than treating them as refugees.

Braving sub-zero night temperatures, she had been living in a tent near the embassy. Her strike has sparked a fresh series of anti-Beijing protests and rallies.

Activists and Seoul lawmakers say about 30 North Koreans who recently fled to China will soon be sent back. They face harsh punishment or even death in their homeland, according to the activists.

Some have already been returned, according to local media reports.

Seoul has repeatedly urged Beijing to treat fugitives from the North as refugees and not to repatriate them. China says they are economic migrants and not refugees deserving protection.

The UN refugee agency and rights watchdog Amnesty International have also urged Beijing not to send the people back. Amnesty says returnees are sent to labour camps where they are subject to torture. - Sapa-AFP

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