Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Chinese court tries aid worker for helping refugees

REUTERS , BEIJING

A Chinese court delivers its verdict tomorrow on a Japanese aid worker charged with trying to help two Japan-born North Korean asylum seekers flee China, a Tokyo-based human rights group said yesterday.

The date of the court's judgment on Takayuki Noguchi appeared timed to avoid coinciding with a third round of six-nation talks in Beijing trying to defuse a crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The four-day talks ended yesterday.

"He should not be arrested or persecuted like this. He is in no way a criminal," the group, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, said in a statement.

Noguchi, 32, a member of the group, was arrested in Guangxi province in southern China last December while trying to help the asylum seekers flee to Cambodia. His trial opened in May.

The fate of the two asylum seekers, who had been abducted from Japan years before and taken to North Korea, is unknown. Chinese authorities released Noguchi's translator, a 29-year-old Chinese-Korean woman, in January.

Activists say up to 300,000 North Korean refugees are hiding in northeast China after fleeing hunger, poverty and repression in their impoverished homeland.

China, which fought alongside the North during the 1950-53 Korean War, has an agreement with its neighbor to repatriate illegal North Korean migrants.

But apparently to avert Western criticism, Beijing has allowed scores of North Korean asylum seekers who have managed to gain access to foreign embassies and consulates in China in recent years to leave for South Korea via third countries.

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