By Lee Jiyeon
SEOUL (Reuters) - Female North Korean refugees who getrepatriated by China face sexually abusive searches by prisonguards who try to retrieve valuables concealed in their bodies,refugees who escaped to the South said on Friday.
North Korea has been accused of controlling its populationby shutting them off from the outside world, keeping them infear through arbitrary and unlawful punishment, and running anetwork of political prisons to suppress dissent.
Women defectors often hide money in their bodies beforethey set out from China to South Korea but once caught becomesubject to searches in which their private parts are violatedby guards, some of the defectors said in a news conference.
"It's more bearable when women guards conduct the search,but some of the men just put their dirty hands in our privateparts. The main reason is to get money," said a refugee whospoke under the pseudonym Kim Sung-hee.
She said she was caught in China trying to come to SouthKorea after escaping the North in 2000.
"Some women, if they don't have cash on them, wrap rings orother items in plastic and hide them in their bodies," saidanother victim who had been sent back to the North after livingin China for more than five years.
Defectors caught heading to South Korea or who come incontact with religious groups face severe punishment thatincludes torture, while those who simply stayed in China towork are let off on lighter charges, the refugees said.
The majority of a group of 30 North Korea defectors in asurvey said they suffered sexual torture while spending time instate prisons, said an expert on North Korean torture, ByunJu-na, in a report.
The forms of abuse cited in the report were largelyviolations of genitals with instruments such as sticks andwhips.
North Korea calls itself a people's paradise and sayscriticism of its human rights is motivated by those trying totopple its government.
About 1,000 refugees fleeing the North eventually findpassage to the South each year, where they are almost alwaysgranted citizenship.
The government of new South Korean President Lee Myung-bakhas called on the prickly neighbour to improve its human rightsrecord, leading to a heated rebuke from Pyongyang which saidsuch comments were an attack on its "dignity and lifeblood."
(Reporting by Lee Jiyeon; Editing by Jack Kim and JerryNorton)