A government official in Seoul said Wednesday.. the nine young defectors are believed to have boarded an Air Koryo flight from Beijing to Pyongyang on Tuesday afternoon.
The source,.. who requested anonymity, said that despite efforts by Seoul to stop China from sending the defectors back to North Korea, the options were limited because the group already had official documents for travel in China and they were accompanied by North Korean personnel.
Typically, North Korean defectors caught in a third country are either sent to China or handed over to the South Korean embassy.
The group of nine was hunted by North Korean authorities in Laos before being sent to China.
This is the first time facts have confirmed that North Korea intercepted defectors in a third country.
Meanwhile, South Korean media outlets are criticizing Seoul for its handling of the matter, saying that the government's response was simply not good enough.
North Korea is known to have demanded the Laotian government return the defectors.
South Korea opposed the deportation, and also tried, but failed, to arrange an in-person meeting with the defectors while they were in the Laotian capital.
The presidential office has confirmed reports of the defectors' repatriation, but declined to comment further.
Kim Han-ul, Arirang News.