Boney M supports N. Korean refugees in Seoul rally

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The lead singer of disco group Boney M on Tuesday joined a rally in Seoul in support of North Korean refugees who fled to China and now face repatriation to their impoverished homeland.

Liz Mitchell, from the group who were hugely popular during the disco era of the late 1970s, shouted "Save my friends" as she joined around a dozen activists and defectors outside the Chinese embassy, witnesses said.

She also held a placard reading "Don't repatriate North Korean refugees" and delivered an envelope of cash donations for refugees.

Members of Boney M, whose hits include "Rivers of Babylon", will join a larger, candlelight rally Wednesday outside the embassy, according to concert promoter Btechnic.

Mitchell, 60, earlier called for China to be lenient on North Korean refugees.

"There should be some kind of leniency, giving these people a chance to live a life they have chosen," she was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

On Saturday the group will play a concert in the South Korean capital and donate part of its ticket sales to defectors, Btechnic said in a statement.

Defectors and activists have been staging hunger strikes or rallies outside the Chinese embassy in protest at Beijing's crackdown on fugitives from North Korea.

China has repatriated dozens of refugees this year, despite pleas from South Korea and international rights groups for Beijing to change its policy.

If repatriated, North Korean refugees face harsh punishment, but China says they are economic migrants and not refugees deserving protection.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty or repression in their homeland, almost all of them across the border into China.

Some hide out among -- or marry into -- the ethnic Korean community in China's northeast. Others try to travel on to Southeast Asian nations before flying to Seoul.

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