• Kyodo

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Chinese authorities in Jilin Province have detained a 64-year-old Japanese woman who fled North Korea last November only to be held by extortionists involved in the escape of North Korean refugees.

Japan has asked the Chinese government to hand the woman over to Japanese authorities, sources close to the matter said Friday.

The woman, who went to North Korea in 1959 with her North Korean husband, sought protection from the Japanese government after she fled to China at the end of November.

Before she was detained by Jilin security authorities on Wednesday, it was believed the woman was being held by people who have demanded a large sum of money from the Japanese government in return for her freedom.

Officials at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing said they cannot comment on whether Chinese authorities have the woman in custody as that information is highly sensitive and could affect the woman’s safety.

It appears that the woman was taken into custody together with the people who were holding her.

After receiving the demand for money, the Japanese government refused to negotiate with the people involved and asked Chinese authorities to take the woman into custody and hand her over to Japan.

It is not known when, or whether, the Chinese government will hand the woman over to Japanese authorities.

People familiar with North Korean refugees who have fled to China say the North Korean government may demand that the Chinese government send her back to North Korea.

To date, dozens of Japanese nationals in similar situations have made their way to Japan, although their returns have not been widely publicized, apparently out of consideration for China’s relations with North Korea. China officially agrees to send North Korean refugees back to North Korea.

The latest case, however, is likely to be the first in which a Japanese from North Korea is publicly sent back to Japan.

Diplomatic sources say North Korea may harden its stance on the issue as the case has been widely publicized.

China has been hit in recent years by a flood of North Korean refugees trying to seek asylum by entering foreign embassies in China.

The escape of some North Korean refugees is reportedly being organized by North Koreans who fled their country. These groups typically demand large sums of money from foreign governments in return for the refugees.

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