Report: China Releases Four S. Korean Activists


China has released four South Korean activists who were held in March after interviewing North Korean refugees hiding there, a report said Wednesday.

The four are being questioned by South Korean intelligence officials in China after being released from a detention center in the border city of Dandong just across from North Korea, Yonhap news agency said.

It quoted a source in Seoul as saying China would soon deport them.

The South's foreign ministry, which has been in negotiations with Beijing, declined to confirm the report.

The activists including Kim Young-Hwan, 48, were arrested on March 29 on charges of endangering state security.

Kim, former leader of an underground leftist party, met the then-North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang in 1991. He later became a fierce critic of the regime and now works for a Seoul-based rights group.

Rights groups in Seoul said the four activists had apparently been interviewing North Korean refugees to collect information about their life in China and the situation in their homeland.

Almost all refugees from the North cross first to China, which repatriates those fugitives whom it catches as economic migrants.

Rights groups have urged Beijing to treat them as potential refugees, saying returnees can face harsh punishment.

South Korean activists engage in secret activities in China to help the refugees travel to a third country and on to South Korea.

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