North Korean refugees in Myanmar held by Burmese rebels

South Korean NGOs face a dilemma over how to rescue 64 North Koreans held by Myanmar rebels and forced to work on a drug farm.

The North Koreans have been taken to a rebel camp northeast of Tachilek, a town along the border between Myanmar and Thailand, over the past nine years, Pastor Kim Hee-Tae told AFP. The refugees were caught while attempting to travel on their own through rebel-held territory to Thailand in order to defect to South Korea after fleeing their poverty-stricken homeland.

He said NGOs were unable to launch a campaign to raise the money, that is $5,000 ransom for each of the hostages, or to ask for Seoul to intervene as the hostage takers were extremely publicity shy.

“We need very quiet negotiations to pull it through”, he said.

About 80 percent of the North Koreans were women and were forced to work at alcohol manufacturing or drug processing plants. “Some of them are forced into prostitution”, he said. Male captives were used to grow poppies.

Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of opium — the raw ingredient for heroin — after Afghanistan, accounting for 10 percent of global production, according to UN data.

[Sinchew]

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