N. Koreans enter school in South in bid for asylum

? Up to 29 North Koreans entered a South Korean school in Beijing on Friday and pleaded for asylum, the latest in a spate of large-scale defections by people fleeing Pyongyang’s Stalinist dictatorship.

Twenty-three women and six men walked through a back gate and into a weedy back yard of the school, located on the rural northern outskirts of the Chinese capital, South Korea’s national news agency Yonhap said.

The group ran 330 yards to the main building and went into the principal’s ground-floor office, Yonhap said, citing unidentified South Korean Embassy officials.

“We fled North Korea and want to live in South Korea,” the group was quoted as saying.

Friday’s bid brings to at least 122 the number of people who have entered embassies and schools in Beijing in the past month in hopes of reaching Seoul. Such asylum bids have become common in China as North Koreans continue their attempts to escape famine and repression in their country.

In the biggest attempt yet, a group of 44 North Koreans climbed over a spiked fence to enter the Canadian Embassy last month, weeks after another 29 would-be defectors climbed a wall to get into a Japanese school.

And last week, 20 people claiming to be North Korean asylum seekers scaled walls and crawled under barbed wire to reach the South Korean Consulate.

China is obligated by treaty to send home North Korean asylum seekers, but it has not done so in cases that became publicly known. Many asylum seekers were allowed to leave for the South.

More than 5,900 North Koreans have fled to South Korea — mostly via China — since the Korean War ended in 1953, Yonhap said — 1,300 during this year alone.

Yonhap said the South Korean embassy has contacted the Chinese government for help in bringing Friday’s group to South Korea. Embassy officials plan to take them to the consular section, which can house them, Yonhap said.

Asylum seekers usually have to spend several days in China while authorities confirm their identities. For large groups, the process can take weeks.

More than 130 North Koreans are now at the South Korean Embassy waiting China’s approval for them to leave the country, Yonhap said.