Thai po­lice ar­rest US citizen for smug­gling North Kore­ans

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

A U.S. citizen work­ing as a Chris­tian mis­sion­ary in Thai­land could face up to five years in jail on charges of smug­gling seven North Kore­ans into the king­dom, po­lice said Wed­nes­day.

Hun­dreds of North Kore­ans risk their lives each year to es­cape poverty and re­pres­sion in the hard­line com­mu­nist na­tion.

Most cross the fron­tier into China — which repa­tri­ates those whom it catches — be­fore trav­el­ling on to a South­east Asian na­tion, from where they try to ar­range pas­sage to South Korea.

But the num­ber of es­capees has de­creased sharply since North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un took power fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther in late 2011 and stepped up bor­der se­cu­rity.

Thai po­lice said U.S. citizen Lee Isaac Byungdo, 39, was ar­rested Mon­day in the north­east­ern province of Nong Khai for help­ing to smug­gle the group of North Kore­ans — six men and one woman — into Thai­land from neigh­bor­ing Laos.

“CCTV footage showed seven North Kore­ans en­ter­ing Thai­land along the Laos bor­der on June 17. They were picked up by a car on the Thai side,” pro­vin­cial immigration po­lice chief Pal­lop Suriyakul na Ayut­thaya told AFP.

The num­ber plate was traced to a Thai rental com­pany which led po­lice to Lee, who has worked in the north­ern province of Chi­ang Mai for nearly two decades, he said.

The mis­sion­ary now faces up to five years in jail on the smug­gling charge.

Pal­lop added that Lee con­fessed to help­ing the North Kore­ans cross the bor­der af­ter re­ceiv­ing a call to as­sist them from a Korean man in Laos.

The mis­sion­ary as well as the seven North Korean na­tion­als, who were ar­rested on charges of illegal en­try, are be­ing de­tained in Nong Khai.

A spokes­woman for the U.S. Em­bassy in Bangkok said it was “aware of re­ports that a U.S. citizen was ar­rested on hu­man smug­gling charges in Thai­land.”

“Due to pri­vacy con­sid­er­a­tions we are un­able to com­ment fur­ther,” she said.

Around 28,000 North Kore­ans have es­caped to the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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