S. Korea confirms return of refugee couple to North

SEOUL - A North Korean refugee couple have returned to their homeland after living in the South for several years, Seoul officials confirmed Friday after the pair gave a press conference in Pyongyang.

North Korean authorities presented the couple, Kim Kwang-Hyok and his wife Ko Jong-Nam, on Thursday, saying they had returned last month after being "lured" into defecting four years ago by intelligence agents.

The South's unification ministry confirmed the couple were former refugees, but said allegations that the intelligence services were involved in their defection were "groundless and absurd."

Kim entered the South in 2008 and Ko the following year. They married in 2009 and have a two-year-old son.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency quoted the couple as saying defectors were "snubbed and disdained everywhere" in the South and their children beaten in schools.

Their comments were similar to those of a female North Korean refugee who returned home in June after six years in the South and was also produced at a press conference.

About 24,000 refugees have settled in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War. The North customarily describes them as "human scum" who betrayed their country.

Activists say that refugees' families back in the impoverished North are put under intense pressure by Pyongyang in a strategy to force their relatives to return.

All new arrivals in the South must spend three months in a government resettlement centre, where they get job training and learn basic survival skills.

They also get financial and housing support upon leaving, but many fail to integrate and complain of discrimination.

Become a fan on Facebook