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Cablegate: (Sbu) Dprk Refugee "Underground Railroad" Runs Through

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 001024

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL, PRM, EAP/P

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREF SOCI PREL PGOV KS KN CH VM DPRK
SUBJECT: (SBU) DPRK REFUGEE "UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" RUNS THROUGH
HCMC


1. (SBU) We met August 3 with a counterpart at the ROK Consulate
in HCMC to follow up on press reports that the four hundred and
fifty North Korean refugees that defected recently to South Korea
did so via HCMC. (On July 27 and July 28, 450 North Koreans
refugees arrived in Seoul, the single largest defection since the
end of the Korean War in 1953. A Seoul-based NGO, the Commission
to Help North Korean Refugees, announced that the refugees had
been residing for months in safe houses provided by South Korean
residents in HCMC. The NGO also announced that the two charter
aircraft carried the refugees to Seoul from HCMC.)

2. (SBU) Our ROK colleague confirmed that the refugees were
transferred from China across the Vietnamese border and then
transported via Hanoi to HCMC. In HCMC they were housed with
sympathizers in the 12,000 strong South Korean community in the
HCMC area. The ROK counterpart said that the operation was run by
the chief of the "National Security Academy" section in the ROK
Embassy in Hanoi.

3. (SBU) When asked how 450 undocumented North Korean refugees
could pass through Vietnamese immigration and customs checks at
Tan Son Nhat airport in HCMC, the ROK representative replied that
the refugees were provided documentation showing that they were
"South Korean laborers" returning to Korea. A separate Vietnamese
source confirmed that airport immigration processed hundreds of
Korean workers who allegedly prolonged their stay in Vietnam after
their labor contracts expired. Our source said the Koreans were
repatriated under the supervision of Vietnamese authorities and in
coordination with the Korean Consulate in HCMC. He expressed
skepticism over the cover story, but said that local authorities
considered the matter to be sensitive and ordered it not be
discussed further. GVN sensitivity to the issue also was
reflected in the absence of any reporting in the state-controlled
media, despite the story being picked up by the international
press.

4. (SBU) Our ROK colleague said that the GVN was "angry" that the
Korean press leaked the details of the repatriation operation. He
acknowledged that Vietnam was placed in an awkward situation, as
it strives to maintain good relations with both North and South
Korea.

5. (SBU) Comment: The implication of our discussions with our
contacts is that the GVN quietly collaborated with the ROK to
assist in the humanitarian repatriation of North Korean refugees
to the South. What was in it for the GVN is unclear, as exposure
of the program could create frictions with the DPRK and even with
China, given its sensitivity on the issue. Our ROK colleague
expressed disgust and the Korean press, which broke the story and
fretted about the implications of the leak for the future of the
North Korean refugee "underground railroad." End Comment.

CHERN

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