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South Korean lawmakers scuffle with North Korean diplomat [Video]

March 14, 2012 |  4:30 am

Several South Korean lawmakers scuffled with a North Korean diplomat leaving a United Nations meeting in Geneva on Tuesday, reportedly chanting slogans against China for sending North Korean defectors back to the isolated and repressive country.

The clash broke out after North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong dismissed a U.N. report that says the human rights situation in his nation had probably deteriorated, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

U.N. spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian told the Associated Press that the South Korean legislators “behaved aggressively,” calling it "obviously a regrettable incident ... unacceptable behavior."

China has repatriated many of the defectors who stream out of North Korea, claiming they crossed for economic reasons and do not merit protection as refugees, The Times reported in February.

South Korea argues that the defectors should be treated as refugees and not be sent back to North Korea, where they face severe punishment and even death. Protesters have rallied in Seoul against recent arrests.

"In North Korea, I was forced into labor, and I can’t even begin to describe how harsh it was," a North Korea defector who was caught in China and sent back to be imprisoned said at one such protest.

North Korea "allows no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society or religious freedom," Human Rights Watch reported this year. "The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other 'anti-socialist' crimes."

The North Korean Foreign Ministry argued Tuesday that South Korea was "foolish" to bring up the issue of sending back defectors on the international stage, Yonhap reported.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: A scuffle between South Korean lawmakers and a North Korean diplomat outside a United Nations meeting. Credit: Associated Press