Government officials on Tuesday interviewed the five North Korean asylum seekers who successfully made it to South Korea in May after being dragged out of a Japanese consulate in China by Chinese police, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The ministry did not reveal what was discussed in the meeting between officials from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and the family of five, except to confirm that the family is from North Korea and that its members are in “good condition and calm.”
The South Korean government, which is housing the family at a facility where North Korean defectors adjust to life in South Korea, allowed the Japanese government to conduct the interviews on condition the contents be withheld.
The government is believed to have asked the family members about their time in China, why they chose the Japanese consulate in Shenyang to defect and how they were treated by Japanese and Chinese officials.
According to supporters, the family members are Kim Guang Choel; his wife, Lee Seong Hee; their daughter, Kim Han Mee; son, Kim Seong Guk; and Kim’s mother, Jung Kyong Sook.
The five attempted to seek asylum at the consulate in Shenyang on May 8. They were released to South Korea on May 22, after a prolonged diplomatic row between China and Japan over whether Chinese police entered the consulate premises and removed the family with Japanese officials’ consent.
The two sides remain divided on the issue. Japan claims it did not give consent, while China says Japan agreed to the entry. Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and her Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, effectively put an end to the row last week at a meeting in Thailand by agreeing to work on a bilateral consular treaty to avoid any future rows.
The Kawaguchi-Tang meeting was an important turning point, a senior ministry official said, adding that it contributed to South Korea’s decision to allow Japanese officials to interview the family.
South Korea recently struck a deal with China to allow 26 North Korean asylum seekers who ran into the South Korean Embassy and other diplomatic missions in China to leave for South Korea earlier this week, the official said, noting that this may have played a part in Seoul’s decision to finally give Japan access to the family.
After Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi returns from the Group of Eight summit in Canada next week, the Foreign Ministry is expected to announce punitive measures against the officials involved in handling the case.
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