China detains N Korean expert

DISTURBING EVIDENCE: An anti-Pyongyang activist say the expert, Ri Chae-woo, planned to give testimony in the US about North Korea's chemical weapons program


Sun, Sep 07, 2003 - Page 5

A North Korean biological weapons expert has been detained while trying to slip into the Australian consulate in China's southern city of Guangzhou to seek political asylum, an anti-Pyongyang activist said yesterday.

Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor-turned-activist, said plainclothes security agents had detained Ri Chae-woo, who planned to testify in the US against Pyongyang's chemical and biological weapons program.

Vollertsen, quoted on a human rights Web site, said Ri had evidence of human experiments in North Korea.

While North Korea's nuclear weapons program has been a top international concern recently, the reclusive state is also believed to be capable of making large amounts of chemical weapons such as nerve, blister and choking agents.

Ri had worked for the Chiha-ri Chemical Corp in Anbyon, south of Wonsan, North Korea, until June 2003, when he and his wife and two teenage children fled to China, Vollertsen said.

"He [Ri] was disguised in the uniform of maintenance staff of the building which houses the consulate," Vollertsen said in a statement on the Web site Chosun Journal, which promotes human rights in North Korea.

"He was apprehended in the fire escape stairwell. His family members escaped via a nearby fast food restaurant and are at large," Vollertsen said.

Guangzhou police declined to comment, and the Australian consulate was not immediately available for comment.

Activists say up to 300,000 North Korean refugees are hiding in northeast China after slipping across the border to flee hunger, poverty and repression in their Communist homeland.

Defectors say North Korean refugees who are sent home face imprisonment, torture or death.

China, which fought alongside the North during the 1950-53 Korean War, has an agreement with its neighbor to repatriate North Koreans, whom it views as economic migrants -- not refugees.

But to avert Western criticism, China has allowed many North Korean asylum seekers to leave for South Korea via third countries.

Last year, more than 1,000 North Koreans reached South Korea via China and other countries. Since last year, China has allowed more than 150 asylum seekers who have fled to foreign embassies and schools in China, to leave and ultimately reach South Korea.

Last month, Shanghai police foiled an attempt by nine North Korean refugees to sneak into a Japanese school and arrested a Japanese national for helping them. Three South Koreans were also detained for filming the refugees.

In July, four North Korean teenagers slipped into the British consulate in Shanghai and were later sent to South Korea.