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Thai police detain 83 North Koreans in raid

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, Oct 25 (Reuters) Thai police detained 83 North Koreans in a raid on a Bangkok apartment block in what appeared to be the latest group of refugees spirited out of the isolated hardline communist state.

The North Koreans, who had been living in the northern suburb of Pathum Thani for nearly one month, were being questioned at a local police station, Lt Col Nikorn Chaivirawong told Reuters yesterday.

A South Korean man was also arrested in today's raid on the Ekpathum Apartments, a five-storey building where the North Koreans had occupied the entire fourth floor.

''He will face charges of bringing illegal immigrants into the country,'' Nikorn said of the South Korean whom he did not name.

It was not known how the group -- including 15 children -- had entered Thailand, but they may have followed the same route as other refugees, Nikorn said.

Last month, a group of 159 North Koreans were released after serving a 30-day jail sentence for illegal entry and allowed to leave Thailand.

Their destination was not made public, but it was likely South Korea, which almost always grants citizenship to asylum seekers from the North and which has lent tacit support to fugitive groups in the past.

That group was arrested in a police raid on a Bangkok house in August after being smuggled out of North Korea and into Thailand via China and eastern Myanmar.

Several organisations run by Christians or human rights activists and former North Korean refugees are known to be at work helping people get to South Korea.

To avoid a crackdown in China, which has deported some fugitives, they are shifting operations to countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

According to Seoul's Unification Ministry, 1,054 North Koreans made it to the South in the first seven months of 2006 -- an increase of nearly 60 percent over the same period in 2005.

Reuters PDS VP0425

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