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Are there North Korean defectors in the Philippines?

First Posted 13:33:00 01/16/2011

MANILA, Philippines?Is there a large number of "talbukja," or North Korean defectors, living in the Philippines?

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, there are. And aside from the country and South Korea, the other Asian nations that are sympathetic to refugees from North Korea include China, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.

Asked for comment, the Department of Foreign Affairs told the Philippine Daily Inquirer it was "not aware of any significant number of North Korean refugees in the country."

But DFA spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya said the government quietly permits the transit of North Korean nationals destined for a third country "only for humanitarian reasons."

Malaya pointed out that generally, "North Korean nationals are welcome to visit our country."

"The Philippines has diplomatic relations with North Korea and maintains cordial relations with its government and people," he noted.

Another Filipino diplomat said Manila "has been sympathetic to defectors from North Korea. We're doing it out of compassion, like the way we treated Vietnamese refugees in the past."

The same source, who asked not to be named, described as "confidential" the North Korean defectors issue.

A check with the Bureau of Immigration said there were no North Koreans legally staying in the country.

But some BI old timers claimed an undisclosed number of North Korean refugees had "blended into the South Korean community" here.

On January 1, 2010, 22 North Korean seafarers reportedly abandoned the 3,461-ton MV Nam Yang 8 after the cargo ship listed dangerously and ran aground off Claveria town in Cagayan.

The Associated Press reported that Claveria folk helped the sailors obtain police assistance.

It also said immigration authorities checked if the North Koreans had required work permits.

Sometime in mid-March 2002, China sent 25 North Korean asylum seekers to Manila.

Then National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the visitors could stay for three days before heading to South Korea.

The North Koreans had said they might be killed if sent back, and some said they carried rat poison to kill themselves if they were repatriated.

In June 2001, seven members of a North Korean family sought refuge in a United Nations-attached office in Beijing. After a four-day wait, they were allowed to leave for South Korea via Singapore and the Philippines.

In March 1997, the Chinese government defused a diplomatic crisis by spiriting Hwang Jang-yop, a senior North Korean defector, out of Beijing and sent him by a special plane to Manila.

Hwang arrived at the Clark Special Economic Zone aboard a China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 that had carried him and three escorts from the south China port of Xiamen. He was later given safe passage to an undisclosed location in South Korea.

Seoul also calls North Korean defectors "saeteomin," or people of the new land, and "bukhanitalchumin," or residents who renounced North Korea.

In 2000, the Philippines and North Korea finally established diplomatic relations after more than 20 years of negotiations.

Seven years later, they forged another agreement aimed at boosting diplomatic ties between the two Asian states.

Manila deals with Pyongyang "through the Philippine embassy in Beijing, which covers North Korea affairs," according to Malaya.

"There are only eight Filipinos based in North Korea, all of whom are connected with United Nations agencies, international non-government organizations, and a foreign tobacco company," he disclosed.

Malaya expressed hope "peace and stability in the Korean peninsula will take deeper roots and such requires continuing dialogue among countries in our region, including North Korea."

A series of acts of aggression by North Korea have raised tensions on the Korean peninsula to boiling point, said Agence France-Presse.

In March, Seoul accused Pyongyang of sinking one of its naval corvettes on with the loss of all 46 hands near the North Korean border.

Last November, North Korean troops fired artillery shells into South Korea's Yeonpyeong island, killing four and injuring around 20 on a border island and prompting an exchange of fire with southern troops.

Pyongyang had warned it may carry out another atomic test to bolster the status of its leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un as it also vowed readiness for what it called a "sacred war" using its nuclear weapons.

North Korea, tagged regional "pest" by Time magazine, later called for unconditional talks to ease tensions.

But South Korea, which wants an apology after North Korea's deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong, dismissed it as propaganda and an empty gesture.

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