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Thai Court Sentences North Korean Refugees to 30 Days


A court in Thailand has sentenced 136 North Korean refugees to 30 days in jail after convicting them of entering the country illegally.

The North Koreans appeared in court in Bangkok Thursday, after being apprehended on Tuesday. The court initially fined the North Koreans the equivalent of $160 each. But because they could not pay, the judge ordered them jailed instead.

U.N. official Kitty McKinsey says she hopes to have the North Koreans transferred to a third country when they finish their sentences. South Korea usually accepts North Korean refugees.

McKinsey said at least 16 other North Koreans who had documentation from the U.N. refugee agency could be transferred to a third country soon.

Thai police discovered 175 North Koreans hiding in a Bangkok home. The group included more than 20 children. Their fate is not clear.

Authorities say the group had been in the country for about two months.

This is believed to be the largest group of North Koreans ever discovered in Thailand at one time. They are believed to have escaped North Korea to China, then traveled through Burma to end up in Thailand. Bangkok has been trying to discourage North Korean refugee traffic, to prevent tensions with Pyongyang.

Thousands of North Koreans have fled their homeland, seeking relief from chronic food shortages and other deprivations. Many end up seeking asylum in South Korea.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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