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China policy on Korean refugees is denounced

Protesters say Beijing hunts down defectors from the North and forces them home, where they face torture and even execution.

December 03, 2006|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

Joining an international effort to draw attention to China's policy of repatriating North Korean refugees, a coalition of Christian and human rights groups held a protest Saturday at the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles, during which they mostly prayed and sang hymns.

"Today, we lift up all our voices around the world ... united for one cause, joined with one heart, with one purpose ... to give freedom to our brothers and sisters of North Korea," prayed Michele Miller, representing Open Doors USA in Santa Ana. The international nonprofit group has ministered to persecuted Christians around the world for half a century.

The Rev. Ki Hyung Han, president of the Council of Korean Churches in Southern California, representing more than 1,000 churches, prayed in Korean that North Koreans might be liberated from the dictatorship of that isolated nation's leader, Kim Jong Il.

The gates to the consulate were padlocked Saturday. A Times call left on an answering machine was not returned. It has been the position of the Chinese government that North Koreans who cross the border into China are illegal immigrants, not refugees.

About 60 people -- some coming from as far away as Temecula -- stood in front of the consulate, holding an array of colorful homemade placards that bore such statements as "Stop Forcible Repatriation" and "China's Cruelty Kills the Olympic Spirit," the latter referring to the 2008 Summer Olympics to be held in Beijing. They sang "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" and "Onward Christian Soldiers," some in English and others in Korean.

Organizers repeatedly said China, in violation of international agreements it has signed, hunts down starving North Korean refugees in China, forcing them to return home, where they face torture, imprisonment and sometimes execution.

The international day of protest was also marked Saturday in four other U.S. cities and 12 countries.

From Canada, the Rev. Paul Estabrooks, who has visited China 40 times, said in a telephone interview that there is an underground railroad run almost exclusively by Christian activists to help North Korean refugees in China escape to a safe third country, where they can gain asylum.

"We do have contacts [in North Korea] with networks of house churches," he said. "One of the networks has more than 57,000 people."

He said there is a tremendous demand for Bibles, spiritual literature and training material in North Korea. Those materials are finding their way into that country, he said.

"This is our Catch-22," Estabrooks said. "People don't know about North Korea, but at the same time it's difficult to share" information about Christian efforts there because of security issues.

Experts estimate that about 200,000 North Koreans are held in prison camps in their nation and that as many as 300,000 are hiding in northeast China.

connie.kang@latimes.com

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