Seoul to keep N.Korean defectors away from polling stations

The National Election Commission plans to prevent North Korean defectors from entering South Korean diplomatic missions in China during the overseas voting period for the general elections.

The overseas voting period for the April 11 general elections runs from March 28 to April 2, and the ballots are open to overseas Koreans with Korean nationality, and absentees such as those studying or working abroad.

According to reports, the National Election Commission is reviewing plans to collaborate with the Chinese police force to prevent North Korean defectors from entering South Korean diplomatic missions, where the voting will take place, by pretending to be South Korean citizens.

An unnamed National Election Commission official was quoted as saying that such measures were "unavoidable," and that North Korean defectors entering diplomatic missions during the period could lead to diplomatic friction with China.

The election watchdog is also said to be reviewing measures such as checking passports and turning away those who are unable to confirm their South Korean citizenship.

China, North Korea's main ally, maintains tight measures against defectors and has a policy of returning them to North Korea.

China is the main initial destination for North Koreans attempting to escape the dictatorial regime through overland routes, and defectors hiding in China are thought to number in tens of thousands.

The election watchdog's plans, however, appear likely to face criticism for the possible lack of authority to prevent entry into diplomatic missions, and for human rights reasons.

North Korea subjects defectors who are returned to its control to severe punishments, raising outcry from human rights activists.

"It appears that (the National Election Commission) was worried that defectors will mix with voters to gain entry, but nobody has the right to stop someone from entering a diplomatic mission," Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the Grand National Party was quoted as saying by a local news agency.

"It would be a different matter if the Chinese authorities were to control (access for North Korean defectors) for security reasons, but for a government agency of South Korea to limit defectors' access to diplomatic missions is an abuse of power."