North Korean 'seeks asylum at S Korean consulate in Hong Kong'

A security guard stands next to an entrance to South Korea"s Consulate (Consulate General of the Republic of Korea) in the Far East Finance Centre in Admiralty, Hong Kong, China, 28 July 2016. Image copyright EPA
Image caption China, which has authority over Hong Kong's diplomatic issues, has been notified of the incident

A North Korean defector is reported to have sought asylum at the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong.

Details remain unclear, but the South China Morning Post reported that he is believed to have come to Hong Kong to take part in an academic competition two weeks ago.

Police patrols around the area have been boosted and security stepped up.

China, which has authority over Hong Kong's diplomatic issues, has reportedly been notified.

A police spokeswoman told BBC Chinese that police were aware of the reports, and confirmed that officers were on guard outside the entrance of the consulate. She said journalists would be stopped from filming.

South Korea's foreign ministry said the government's position was not to make any comments related to defectors from Pyongyang.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption South Korea's consulate is housed inside the Far East Finance Centre (pictured, in gold)

By Grace Tsoi, BBC Chinese service

The defector will probably have to spend a few months at the South Korean consulate, according to North Korean Defectors Concern, a Hong Kong-based NGO.

Co-founder Lau Kwun-hang told the BBC that the Chinese government could not arrest or repatriate the asylum seeker because he had already entered the consulate. "But if he wants to leave [Hong Kong] and head to South Korea, this needs the permission of the Chinese government."

Something similar happened in 2012, when Beijing finally allowed five North Korean defectors to leave for South Korea after they had spent three years in China.

Given the publicity and security concerns, Lau Kwun-hang does not believe the defector will need to wait for years before departing for South Korea.

Under Hong Kong's Basic Law, the constitutional document of the territory, China has authority over diplomatic issues.

China usually sends back North Koreans found entering its territory illegally. South Korea usually takes in and rehabilitates North Koreans who escape.

The South Korean Unification Ministry's website says more than 29,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War.

In April, 13 North Koreans working at an overseas restaurant defected to South Korea, the first mass escape from a single location. A second group reportedly defected in May.

There were also reports in April that a senior North Korean official had defected.

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