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Thailand Discovers 175 North Korean Refugees Hiding in Bangkok 

The Thai government is holding talks with the United Nations and the South Korean government after Thai police detained 175 North Koreans at a house in Bangkok. Such refugees usually make their way to South Korea.

Following a tip-off by the neighbors, the Thai police raided a house in the Wai Kwang area of Bangkok Tuesday. Inside they found 128 women, 37 men and 10 children - the largest group of North Koreans ever discovered at one time in Thailand.

Lieutenant Colonel Prawit Sirithon, an officer from the Thai Immigration Detention Center, or IDC, says the North Koreans are expected to appear in court later this week on charges of illegal entry.

"Last night the police station from Wai Kwang send 175 persons to IDC," he said. "Now the inquiry officer have to make a document and send them to court within 48 hours."

Prawit said all the refugees were in good health, and he confirmed that 16 of their number are already registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The UNHCR spokeswoman in Bangkok, Kitty McKinsey, says her agency hopes to send all the refugees to a third country.

"Yes, all the North Koreans who have been arrested are people of concern to UNHCR, and we are in consultations with the Thai Government to make sure that their rights are protected and to try to find a human solution," she said. "We hope that very soon, all of these people will be allowed to depart to a third country."

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told reporters the South Korean government was also in consultation with Thailand over what measures could be taken. South Korea usually grants entry permits to North Korean refugees.

In early 2003, 10 North Koreans slipped into the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok. They were eventually sent to South Korea by way of a third country.

The Immigration Police say they trying to determine which group smuggled the Koreans into Thailand. Several Christian and human rights organizations and former North Korean refugees are believed to be engaged in the smuggling.

An official said Thailand was not prepared to act as a transit point for what he termed "this kind of human trafficking."

Almost 400 North Koreans have managed to make their way into Thailand this year.

Police said this latest group had entered Thailand through the northern province of Chiang Rai, after traveling through China and Burma. They said the group had been living in the Bangkok house for almost two months.

Most North Koreans fleeing their homeland cross the border into neighboring China, and many stay there. But China usually deports any refugees it finds back to North Korea, where they are believed to face harsh punishment.