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Archive for Wednesday, September 4, 2002

N. Koreans occupy buildings in asylum bids

September 4, 2002

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— Fifteen North Koreans jumped a wall at a German government compound Tuesday and were holed up in a school amid a surge in asylum bids by people fleeing their impoverished, repressive homeland.

Also Tuesday, a South Korean official disclosed that at least 20 North Koreans were waiting in the South Korean Embassy in Beijing for Chinese permission to leave the country.

The entry into the German compound, on a busy street in eastern Beijing, came a day after a third group of 12 North Koreans tried to use a ladder to climb into a diplomatic apartment complex. They were blocked by Chinese guards who beat and kicked them. Eight were detained, while the others ran away.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, said Tuesday he had no information on the status of those detained.

China has let dozens of North Koreans leave for the rival South since March after they sought refuge in foreign embassies and consulates.

The number of asylum bids has jumped in the past two weeks. In addition to at least 35 North Koreans in the German compound and the South Korean Embassy, activists say as many as 18 others have been detained by Chinese authorities.

Despite letting some go, China has refused pleas to treat thousands of North Koreans living in its northeast as refugees.

The communist government, the North's last major ally, insists they are economic migrants. Beijing is obligated by treaty to send North Koreans home, and police launch periodic crackdowns aimed at rounding them up.

China has tried to discourage asylum bids by stringing barbed wire and posting more armed guards outside embassies which might be encouraging North Koreans to switch to other targets like the German school compound.

It wasn't clear whether the compound, which also has apartments for diplomats, is considered diplomatic territory that Chinese police can't enter without permission.

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