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May 31, 2012

Sweden pushes North to release S. Koreans

SEOUL (UPI) -- Sweden agreed Wednesday to work with South Korea to press for the release of three South Koreans believed to have been held in North Korea since 1987.

Sweden's commitment came in response to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's first public comments on the case of Shin Suk-ja and her two daughters, Yonhap news agency reported.

"I hope they will be able to return [home] if the world pays greater attention," Lee said.

In response, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf asked Deputy Foreign Minister Frank Belfrage about the case at a Seoul meeting and Belfrage said Sweden had been closely monitoring the situation and would "cooperate actively" with South Korea, said Park Jeong-ha, a spokesman for Lee.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said this month Shin and her daughters reportedly have been held in North Korea since 1987, a year after Shin's husband, Oh Kil-nam, fled the North, a Seoul-based rights advocacy group said.

In April, a senior North Korean diplomat told the U.N. Working Group Shin had died of hepatitis and the daughters did not consider Oh their father because "he abandoned his family and drove their mother to death."

Oh said at the time he believed his wife was still alive and would continue to fight for his family's freedom.

In Brussels Tuesday, Seoul's top envoy to the European Union, Kim Chang-beom, called on North Korea to release the three family members immediately. The request came at a European Parliament Subcommittee on North Korea's human rights record.

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