North Korea says nine young North Koreans repatriated from China were not defectors but had been kidnapped by South Korea.

Wednesday's statement by Pyongyang's Red Cross comes as international attention builds on the fates of the North Koreans, who are as young as 14.

South Korean media say the nine were detained in Laos last month while trying to come to Seoul. They were flown home via China last week.

The North alleges the group was detained abroad and subjected to brainwashing and beating. It also alleges that South Korea forced the North Koreans to convert to Christianity by making them memorize the Bible and hymns.

North Korea's Red Cross says it abides by the rules of its international association but is essentially controlled by the government.