Wed, May 15, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Three North Koreans leave China, others' fate unclear

REUTERS , BEIJING

Three North Koreans who sought asylum in a US consulate in China last week arrived in South Korea yesterday while the fate of seven who made separate dashes for Japanese and Canadian missions remained unclear.

Talks between Japan and China over five would-be asylum seekers whom Chinese police dragged out of Japan's consulate in Shenyang last Wednesday ended without any agreement or plans for further negotiations.

"We requested the apology and humanitarian treatment and the assurance of a non-recurrence but the Chinese side said they had no reason to apologize. And they rejected all the requests especially in the case of the handover," a senior Japanese diplomat said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official said yesterday the case of two North Koreans who entered the Canadian embassy on Saturday had been resolved.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Embassy could not confirm the breakthrough.

In South Korea, a witness said three North Koreans who scaled the wall into the US consulate in Shenyang last Wednesday and Thursday arrived at Inchon airport near Seoul in the afternoon.

So far this year, 162 North Koreans have defected to South Korea, compared with a record 583 last year.

South Korean aid groups say that between 150,000 and 300,000 more North Koreans are scattered in the hills of northeast China and asylum attempts are expected to rise as the region comes under the spotlight during next month's World Cup.

China, which does not consider the asylum seekers to be refugees, refuses to allow them to fly directly to Seoul and has insisted they transit through third party countries in order to avoid upsetting Pyongyang.

Japan says Chinese guards at its consulate violated diplomatic conventions by seizing the two men, two women and three-year-old girl after they had crossed the threshold of the consulate.

But China has asserted that Japanese consular staff gave approval for the action and says the guards were acting out of goodwill.

Kong Quan (孔泉), Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said the incident involving two North Koreans entering the Canadian Embassy in Beijing had been resolved.

But the embassy said they were unaware of any resolution.

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