- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - The wife of a top North Korean trade official in China has defected to South Korea along with her children, news reports said Thursday.

The woman, identified only by her family name, Ri, and the two children sought asylum in the South Korean Embassy in Singapore and arrived in Seoul about a month ago, South Korea’s Kyunghyang Sinmun newspaper reported, citing an unidentified ruling party official.

They asked for protection at the embassy in January when the top North Korean trade representative in Shanghai went to Pyongyang for a meeting with heads of North Korea’s overseas missions, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an unidentified source.

South Korea’s spy agency denied the reports, and the Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm them, citing security concerns for the North Koreans.

The reports come amid escalating tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s plans for what it claims will be a satellite launch between Saturday and Wednesday. The U.S., South Korea and Japan believe the North is really testing long-range missile technology.

Several North Korean officials defected to South Korea in the 1990s. In recent years, thousands of North Koreans facing hunger and repression at home have made the long and risky journey across China to Southeast Asia. Many seek eventual asylum in South Korea.

More than 15,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the Korean War, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. The war ended with a 1953 cease-fire that has never been replaced with a peace treaty.

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