China says 'not aware' of detention of N. Korean defectors

BEIJING, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- China's foreign ministry said Monday it had no information that 13 North Korean defectors were arrested in the Chinese city of Kunming late last week.

"I'm not aware of the specifics you mentioned," ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters when asked about the detention of the North Koreans who were arrested Friday.

The North Koreans were arrested while trying to board a bus bound for an unidentified Southeast Asian nation, Seoul-based activists said earlier in the day.

"I need to get further information about that," Qin said.

However, Qin reiterated China's long-standing policy of not recognizing North Korean defectors as asylum seekers, calling them "illegal border-crossers."

"In dealing with relevant issues, we abide by the domestic law, the international law, and the humanitarian spirit," Qin said.

Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Southeast Asian countries before resettling in South Korea, which is presently home to more than 25,000 North Korean defectors.

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