[HONG KONG] A North Korean defector has sought refuge at the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong, a local newspaper reported on Thursday, citing government sources in the city.
The defector is understood to be a member of a North Korean delegation that attended an academic competition at a Hong Kong university about two weeks ago, the South China Morning Post said.
Security has been stepped up around the South Korean consulate and police have boosted patrols around the area in the city's central business district, the newspaper cited government sources as saying. "We are aware of the report," a spokeswoman from the Hong Kong police told Reuters on Thursday morning, declining to comment further.
South Korea's foreign ministry declined comment. A ministry official said the South Korean government's position was not to make any comments related to North Korean defectors, keeping in mind their safety and diplomatic relations with relevant countries.
Officials from the North Korean and South Korean consulates in Hong Kong were not immediately available for comment.
The Hong Kong office of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hong Kong government could not be reached for comment.
China's Foreign Ministry in Beijing also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the early 2000s, there was a rash of cases of North Koreans seeking asylum at foreign missions in China, mostly in Beijing, where in some cases they scaled embassy walls and forced their way in.
North Korean defectors mostly come from the poorest parts of the destitute state and usually flee over the traditionally quite porous border with China.
They then seek passage to the South via a third country, or previously via embassies and consulates in China, because Beijing sees them as economic refugees and forcibly repatriates them to North Korea.