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Jiwon Song is an NK News contributor based in Seoul and studied International Relations at Waseda University. Follower her @jiwon_song121
The North Korean and Lao security agencies recently signed an agreement, DPRK state media announced on Saturday, which may possibly relate to the repatriation of North Korean defectors in Laos.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that a delegation of the Ministry of People’s Security, had talks with a delegation of the Lao Ministry of Public Security. They talked about “mutual concern and boosting the cooperation of the two security organs” when signing the agreement, but its specific terms are not known yet.
Concern has been raised that the agreement relates to the repatriation of North Korean defectors in Laos. Nine teenager defectors were captured in Laos in 2013 and forcefully returned to the North, igniting international criticism. North Korea and Russia were also criticized internationally following the signing of an extradition treaty in February.
Laos’ Ministry of Public Security did not respond to NK News‘ inquiries as to whether or not the agreement relates to extradition.
“In general the position of the office is that bilateral agreements of this type should fully respect the principle of non-refoulement and protect people from forced repatriation,” Tarek Cheniti, a deputy representative of the UN Human Rights Seoul Office told NK News.
Laos established diplomatic ties with North Korea in 1974. The two countries have maintained relations and sought cooperation in trade and technology. A UN source said the government of Laos would be as well pressured globally if the agreement is found out to be extradition treaty.
“Laos signed and ratified the UN convention against torture, which bans every country from extraditing a person to where they would be in danger of being subject to torture,” Ahn Younkyo, a UN head officer told NK News. Those violating the convention would be publicly identified, increasing pressure on their governments.
A source familiar with North Korean defectors said North Korea might have pressured the Lao government.
“It takes about 15 days to a month on average, or two months maximum for North Koreans to head to South Korea. The fastest route for defectors is to pass through Laos rather than heading to Thailand,” Chun Ki-won, a pastor of Durihana church told NK News.
“However, since last winter, there has been an increase in the number of defectors who have had to wait for more than 100 days and with no permission to head to South Korea.”
Chun said the waiting period had perhaps been extended because most North Koreans find it easiest to fly to Seoul from Laos rather than depart to Thailand and wait for another two-three months. A significant number of them had come to Laos over the last three years, which presumably placed a substantial burden on the Ministry of Immigration.
Still, Chun said the agreement is most likely to put pressure on the Lao government to tackle defection.
Featured Image: Wikimedia North Korean embassy in Vientiane, Laos