**HRW: North Korean Refugees at Risk of Torture**
A human rights group is urging North Korea to "immediately reveal" the whereabouts of nine North Korean refugees who are believed to have been forced back to Pyongyang from Beijing.
Human Rights Watch said Thursday it wants the North Korean government to ensure that the nine people will not be punished for having fled the country.
Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director, says the young refugees are at "dire risk." He says North Korea criminalizes unauthorized departures and is known to torture those caught trying to escape and those sent back."
Reports say the North Koreans, aged 15 to 23, were arrested in Laos this month and that authorities there turned them over to China. Their current whereabouts are unknown but South Korea's Yonhap news agency quotes officials in that country saying they were sent back to North Korea this week despite appeals from the South.
HRW said that, under international law, individuals have the right not to be forcibly returned to a place where they face persecution.
**UN Chief: Progress Slow on Syria Peace Talks**
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged progress has been slow in arranging international peace talks aimed at ending Syria's civil war.
Mr. Ban said Wednesday key elements of the U.N.-sponsored talks are still undecided, including whether the Syrian opposition will attend and who would represent it.
Earlier, Syrian opposition leaders repeated a demand for President Bashar al-Assad to leave power, saying they will not agree to the talks without a timetable for his withdrawal.