A group of 11 North Koreans who were detained in Vietnam while seeking to defect to South Korea have been released thanks to the help of European institutions, a Seoul-based activist group has said.
The eight women and three men were caught by border guards in northern Vietnam in late November after crossing from China, and had been held in the northeastern border city of Lang Son.
Peter Jung, who heads the group helping the refugees, Justice for North Korea, said they were freed and on their way to South Korea last month. Multiple European organizations played a key role, he said. He declined to identify them due to the diplomatic sensitivity but said they included a non-government group.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that U.S. officials, including diplomats engaged in denuclearization talks with North Korea, intervened to secure the defectors’ release, citing unidentified sources.
But Jung said he was unaware of any U.S. contribution. South Korea’s foreign ministry said that the WSJ report was “not factual”, but said the government had made immediate efforts to prevent the defectors from being forcibly repatriated. It refused to elaborate.
“The European institutions acted after we published a video of the refugees making desperate appeals for freedom,” Jung said. “South Korea’s foreign ministry got also involved later.”