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South Korea Seeks Help on Citizens Detained in North

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to mark the 21st anniversary of the death of founder Kim Il Sung in this undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on July 8, 2015.

South Korean officials say Seoul is seeking international help to win the release of its citizens being detained in North Korea.

A Unification Ministry official told reporters Wednesday that Seoul is asking countries with diplomatic missions in Pyongyang to provide assistance in its efforts to secure the quick release of four South Koreans. The countries promised to “make efforts” on the matter, according to the official.

The North is holding the South Koreans on charges of spying or illegal entry, but the South has denied the charges and demanded their immediate release. Seoul has offered talks over the detainees, but the North has rejected the idea.

Inter-Korean Talks

A spokesman for the Unification Ministry said Seoul would raise the issue when inter-Korean talks resume.

“The South Korean government has the responsibility and duty to put its citizens’ life and properties first and foremost. That’s why the government is making the utmost efforts for the release of the four,” said Jeong Joon-hee.

Jeong said the North’s stance on the detainees has not been changed.

Another South Korean official, who asked to remain anonymous, told the VOA Korean service Seoul has no other options but to go through the indirect channels of the international community.

The official added the South is considering a plan to use international organizations, including the Red Cross, to seek dialogue with the North.

Hard Labor

Last month, North Korea sentenced two South Korean men to hard labor for life for spying for the South. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil had been found guilty of state subversion at a trial.

In May, the North said it was holding a South Korean student for illegal entry. Joo Won-moon, a student at New York University, was arrested April 22, after crossing into the communist country from the Chinese border city of Dandong, according to KCNA.

Last year, the North sentenced Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean missionary, to life in prison with hard labor on charges of spying and trying to set up underground churches.

Recently, tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen over the establishment of a U.N. human rights field office in the South. The office, tasked with monitoring North Korean human rights, opened in Seoul last month despite Pyongyang’s repeated threats to retaliate.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.