(LEAD) S. Korea to push to designate July 14 as day for N. Korean defectors

SEOUL, South Korea will push to designate July 14 as an official day for North Korean defectors, Seoul's point man on Pyongyang said Wednesday, in a move to provide better support to the people who have fled the North and raise awareness for unification. The unification ministry has been moving to designate a day for North Korean defectors after President Yoon Suk Yeol raised the issue in a Cabinet meeting last month, emphasizing they are South Korean citizens under the Constitution. The ministry said it chose July 14 as the official day for North Korean defectors, noting that the law on protecting North Korean defectors and supporting their settlement went into effect on that day in 1997. "The day for North Korean defectors will have a very symbolic meaning for the 34,000 North Korean defectors who are steadfastly carrying out their lives after overcoming unspeakable adversity," Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said in the inaugural meeting of a special committee aimed at strengthening support for defecto rs. Kim said the ministry plans to hold a ceremony marking the date this year and establish a venue, such as a monument or a park for defectors to commemorate fellow defectors who were sacrificed, in an apparent reference to those who died during botched defection attempts. Still, a ministry official said it needs to work out the details on a specific venue or means of commemorating such defectors, as well as determine the official English name for the day. Kim Han-gil, the head of the presidential committee on national unity, said the special committee will be tasked with changing the "paradigm" of supporting defectors by enhancing social perceptions of them and establishing a better environment for settlement. South Korea has a longstanding policy of accepting any North Korean defectors who want to live in the South and repatriating any North Koreans who stray into the South if they want to return. The total number of North Korean defectors in South Korea had reached 34,078 as of the end of last year, up 196 from the previous year, according to ministry data. Source: Yonhap News Agency