Mon, May 13, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Japan raising stakes in N Korean asylum case


Japan raised the stakes yesterday in a row with China over five North Korean asylum seekers dragged from its northeastern consulate by Chinese police with a decision to send a senior vice minister to Beijing.

News of the move came a day after an angry Japan dismissed Chinese reports that its diplomats had allowed police to enter the consulate in Shenyang last Wed-nesday to drag out the North Koreans who had rushed inside, apparently to seek asylum.

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Seiken Sugiura was to be sent to Beijing as early as today to negotiate with China on the handover of the North Koreans -- two men, two women and a child, Japanese media reported quoting government sources.

"Although the decision is not 100 percent final, it is highly likely and we are moving in that direction," a Foreign Ministry official said.

"It would not be to investigate but more to negotiate with Chinese officials, to repeat Japan's basic stance that they must be handed over and that efforts must be made to prevent a recurrence," he said.

The vice minister would leave as soon as possible, he added.

The decision to send a high-ranking politician rather than a bureaucrat was intended to underscore Tokyo's anger over the incident, domestic newspapers quoted an unidentified senior Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Meanwhile, two North Koreans have sought refuge in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and are asking for passage overseas, an embassy spokeswoman said yesterday.

The man and the woman appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s and got into the embassy together on Saturday, said spokeswoman Jennifer May. It was unclear if they are married, she said.

Canadian diplomats are negotiating their passage with Chinese officials and "would like to see them on their way as quickly as possible," May said. "They are in the embassy and we are looking after them."

The pair evaded Chinese police patrols and security that has increased dramatically in Beijing's embassy districts following the recent rash of asylum bids by North Koreans.

More than two dozen of them have barged past guards and clambered over walls of foreign missions in the Chinese capital in the past two months and won passage to South Korea.

Last week, three North Korean men climbed walls of the US consulate in Shenyang. They were still there yesterday while US diplomats negotiated with Chinese officials, a consulate spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity.

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