Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Canadian embassy helps 44 N Koreans escape from Beijing


Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew announced Wednesday that 44 North Koreans seeking refuge inside Canada's embassy in Beijing have received passage to a safe third country.

The group had been holed up inside the Canadian embassy since Sep. 29, when they climbed the walls of the embassy grounds in broad daylight. The North Koreans had approached the embassy by pretending to be construction workers.

Hundreds of North Koreans fleeing the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang have entered China and tried to gain refuge on the grounds of various embassies in Beijing, despite efforts by Chinese authorities to discourage such asylum-seeking.

The North Korean refugees fear severe persecution if forced to return to their homeland. Canadian officials refused late Wednesday to say how the transfer of the North Koreans was arranged or to what country they were allowed to travel.

Pettigrew thanked China's government "for working with us to resolve this issue in a way that is consistent with our international obligations and in keeping with our humanitarian concerns."

Meanwhile, Canadian authorities have allowed the construction of a barrier around the Beijing embassy, Toronto's Globe and Mail reported.

Canada was one of a few countries that resisted Chinese attempts to block public access to Beijing embassies with perimeter fencing. After the 44 North Koreans reached the Canadian outpost, Chinese authorities further increased pressure for fortifications, the Globe and Mail said.

The paper described it as a green, metal fence, more than two meters high and erected several meters outside the compound wall. It stands on the sidewalk on Beijing city property around the entire perimeter of the Canadian embassy grounds. Chinese officials have also posted more guards outside the compound. Canada's policy had previously been to insist on an open physical environment at its embassy in Beijing.

"We have to adjust to changing circumstances to some extent," said Canadian ambassador Joseph Caron.

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