Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - A senior Foreign Ministry official yesterday said China is likely to free four South Korean activists it held for more than three months.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan met Meng Jianzhu, China's police chief and state councilor, in Seoul and requested the release of Kim Young-hwan and three other anti-North Korea crusaders.
"Yang responded that he is taking serious consideration in light of the two countries' ties," the official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.
"They did not talk about the timing of their release but it will likely come shortly," he added.
The Chinese public security minister paid a courtesy call on President Lee Myung-bak later in the day.
The four activists for North Korean human rights are detained in Dandong, the Chinese border city with North Korea.
They were arrested on March 29 in nearby Dalian for apparently helping North Korean defectors. They are charged with "endangering national security."
In Phnom Penh on Thursday, Kim held separate talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and requested their discharge.
South Korean diplomatic sources said that Beijing has decided to drop charges against them.
Speculation was raised that Meng may ask for the discharge of Liu Qiang, a 36-year-old Chinese man who is serving a 10-month jail term for hurling four Molotov cocktails at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in January. Seoul officials dismissed the claim as "unlinkable."
Kim Yong-hwan, 49, is a senior researcher for the Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights. A former pro-North Korea movement leader, he turned to activism against the communist state's human rights abuses in the 1990s.
The other three detainees are Yoo Jae-gil, 43, Kang Shin-sam, 41, and Lee Sang-yong, 31.
China has been criticised for repatriating North Korean refugees under a decades-long pact with the despotic regime despite torture, labor camps or even death they face back home, calling them "illegal economic migrants."