ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Myanmar releases North Korean refugees
Nineteen North Koreans have been released from detention in Myanmar and sent to Thailand, Burmese officials told the U.S.-funded Voice of America news service Thursday.
The suspected defectors were detained in Myanmar in early December while trying to flee to South Korea through China and Southeast Asia.
Other news agencies said the defectors included 15 women and a 7-year-old boy.
South Korean officials told Voice of America they would be welcomed in South Korea.
According to VOA, about 14,000 defectors from North Korea have been resettled in South Korea, where the constitution automatically recognizes them as citizens. Tens of thousands more are living illegally in China, VOA reported, where they are not recognised as refugees.
Myanmar broke off diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1983 after North Korean agents set off a bomb in an attempted assassination of then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. The blast killed more than 20 people, according to the Asia Times, most of them South Korean officials.
Chun survived, but the deputy prime minister, the foreign minister and the South Korean ambassador to Myanmar were killed.
Recently, however, the two countries have begun contacts aimed at restoring diplomatic ties.
A senior South Korean foreign ministry official will leave for Myanmar and Laos this weekend to discuss the issue of North Korean defectors who are increasingly seeking shelter there, South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted ministry sources as saying.
The ministry said earlier Friday that Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-joon will seek ways of promoting economic and political ties with the Southeast Asian countries during his visit from January 3-7.