Image: North Korean refugees arrive in South Korea.
Getty Images
North Korean defectors arrive at Incheon International Airport, in South Korea, from an unidentified Southeast Asian country, on Wednesday.
updated 7/29/2004 1:45:37 AM ET 2004-07-29T05:45:37

North Korea called the mass defection of nearly 460 of its citizens to South Korea this week a "planned kidnapping" and lashed out Thursday at Seoul and other parties involved in arranging the two-day airlift, saying they were guilty of a "terror crime."

The North Koreans, believed to have fled their communist homeland via its border with China before heading to a Southeast Asian country, arrived in Seoul in two planeloads Tuesday and Wednesday in an operation shrouded in secrecy.

South Korean government officials have been reluctant to even confirm the arrival and have declined to reveal the Southeast Asian country from where the defectors were arriving, apparently to spare that government from diplomatic reprisals by North Korea.

Image: North Korean boy waves from a bus window after arriving in South Korea.
Kim Kyung-Hoon  /  Reuters
A North Korean boy waves from a bus window after arriving at Incheon International Airport, in South Korea, with more than 200 other defectors, on Wednesday.
North Korea's statement Thursday, by a spokesman from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, was the North's first public response to the defector airlift.

"This is an organized and planned kidnapping as well as a terror crime that took place in broad daylight," the spokesman said, according to KCNA, the North's official news agency. KCNA was monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"The South Korean government will be fully responsible for the outcome of this situation, and other forces that cooperated in this affair will also pay a big price," the spokesman said.

The first group of 230 defectors arrived Tuesday on a specially chartered flight by South Korea's Asiana Airlines, the country's Yonhap news agency reported, followed by a second batch of 227 defectors Wednesday.

The government barred reporters from covering the events, but TV footage captured from afar showed defectors getting off Asiana Airlines planes before being whisked away in buses.

It was by far the largest arrival in what has become a steady stream in recent years of defectors repression and hunger in a country that has depended on outside help to feed its 22 million people since 1995.

Most of the North Koreans flee across their countries long border with China, and human rights groups say hundreds have made their way to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries, hoping eventually to go to capitalist South Korea.

Some also have sought refuge in embassies in Beijing before being granted permission to travel to South Korea via third countries.

Over 5,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War. Last year, the number of defectors arriving in the South reached 1,285, up from 1,140 in 2002 and 583 in 2001.

The Koreas were divided in 1945. Their border remains sealed and heavily guarded by nearly 2 million troops on both sides following the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The South Korean government typically puts defectors through a month of questioning before giving them a two-month orientation course on how to make their way in their new capitalist home.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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