Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Korean lawmakers demand apology from `rude' Chinese

DISRUPTION South Korean lawmakers demanded Beijing apologize after agents thwarted their attempt to hold a press conference on the plight of N Korean refugees

AP , BEIJING

Four South Korean legislators are demanding that China punish security agents who disrupted a news conference about North Korean refugees, but China yesterday said the politicians should apologize for breaking the law.

South Korea demanded an explanation from Beijing of the 11-hour standoff at a Beijing hotel Wednesday, where the agents shut off the lights, shoved some reporters out and prevented others from talking to the South Koreans.

The lawmakers had planned to discuss North Korean asylum seekers, a politically sensitive issue for China -- Pyongyang's closest ally.

The legislators demanded that Beijing punish the men who stopped the news conference, said a South Korean Embassy official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

"The legislators called it an unprecedented violation of human rights and freedom of speech,'' the official said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan (孔泉) said the South Koreans broke the law but wouldn't say how.

"If the situation is true, why should we apologize to them?" Kong said at a regular briefing. "I feel on the other hand, they should make apologies to the Chinese side."

Hundreds of North Koreans fleeing their hardline communist homeland have been allowed to leave for the rival South after breaking into embassies, consulates and schools in China. While Beijing is obliged by treaty to send home the asylum seekers, it hasn't done so in cases that become public.

Chinese authorities insist they are economic migrants and refused to grant them refugee status.

The South Korean legislators, members of the opposition Grand National Party, "didn't come to China for friendship, for more understanding and for cooperation. They came here in support of activities which are in contradiction or in violation of China's laws and regulations," Kong said.

"These four persons are congressmen ... and if they want to further encourage these illegal entrants to do such things, we will not allow this," Kong said.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry yesterday summoned China's Ambassador Li Bin and demanded China's explanation on the incident, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

On Wednesday, the lawmakers and reporters sat in darkness for almost two hours. After the lights came back on, the men who broke up the news conference barricaded the door with chairs and sat on them.

Ambassador Li Bin (李彬) told South Korean officials that the delegation hadn't respected Chinese law, Yonhap said, citing the Foreign Ministry.

The Grand National Party yesterday blamed the incident on China's "rudeness and arrogance."

"This is in one word an insult to the Republic of Korea, and a violence toward lawmakers who represent the people," it said.

In a statement issued before the conference, the lawmakers appealed to the Chinese government to allow North Koreans hiding in China to leave the country and to release Choi Young-hoon, a jailed South Korean activist.

The lawmakers departed yesterday morning for the eastern coastal city of Qingdao, where Choi is serving a five-year prison term on migrant smuggling charges, the embassy official said. He had been accused of helping North Korean asylum seekers, the lawmakers said.

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