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CHINA IN TURMOIL : Americans Report Embassy Did Little to Help Them Flee

June 09, 1989|JOHN H. LEE and JACK JONES | Times Staff Writers

Students and teachers returning from China complained Thursday that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was not helpful in getting them out of the strife-torn nation, leaving them waiting futilely for instructions while citizens of other countries were being evacuated.

"We got nothing," said Roxanne Sylvester, 37, a teacher in UCLA's English-language program at the Chinese Academy of Social Science Graduate School in Beijing. She said she saw Canadian, Portuguese, Irish and French embassy personnel arrange charter flights and airport transportation for their respective citizens while the U.S. Embassy remained silent and unreachable.

Sylvester, who left Beijing Wednesday afternoon, said she felt relatively safe and wanted to stay there, where she has lived for four years. But when she received a telex from UCLA on Wednesday morning asking all exchange faculty and students to "please leave Beijing," she and her family--in the absence of American Embassy directives--reluctantly decided to go.

"The embassy was totally useless," said her husband, Cary Meshul, 35, who returned here with Sylvester after last weekend's mass violence in Tian An Men Square.

Sylvester appeared before about 200 students at a program arranged by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center on the Westwood campus.

At California State University, Northridge, complaints about the U.S. Embassy were echoed by parents of American students still in China. "Our enemy seems to be the State Department," said Jerry Brown, father of one student.

Same Story in San Francisco

Americans arriving in San Francisco also said they got little help from the State Department. Carol Benedict, 33, a Stanford University student studying at Beijing College of Traditional Medicine, flew into San Francisco International Airport to say she had called the embassy in Beijing for help but got none.

Gail Butler, 46, of New Orleans, another arrival at San Francisco, said the embassy "was total chaos." He said, "They didn't tell us anything. They never called us." He said he offered $100 to a 19-year-old student to help buy an airline ticket when the embassy refused to do so.

In Beijing, U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley insisted that embassy personnel had worked hard to get Americans out, and he promised that all Americans who want to leave will get out with embassy help.

"We've helped thousands and hundreds of Americans to get out of here," Lilley told a news conference.

Advised to Take 'All Necessary Steps'

Meanwhile, with 24 students and 17 faculty members from six California State University campuses still in China as of Thursday afternoon, all branch presidents were advised to take "all necessary steps" to expedite their return.

Dr. Lee R. Kerschner, vice chairman of academic affairs for the CSU system, said late Thursday, "We're working very hard to reduce that number." Initially, he said, there were 34 students and 23 faculty members in various programs in China.

Kerschner said university system officials had been working with the State Department and Gov. George Deukmejian's office to arrange exits from China. Students and faculty not yet out, he said, had been told to "avoid areas in or around Chinese university facilities, large urban areas or other places where large groups of people would gather."

He said the students were directed to make their way "as quickly as possible" to airports in Beijing, Shanghai or Canton, where chartered planes were removing American citizens.

The CSU system has study and research programs in several Chinese cities and provinces.

Ribbons Handed Out as Show of Support

On the University of Southern California campus, about 3,000 pale-blue ribbons were distributed to students and faculty members Thursday so they could attach them to vehicle antennas to show their support for democracy in China.

Physics Prof. Chang Tu-nan said the 300-member Chinese Student and Scholar Assn. on the USC campus has raised more than $10,000 during the last few days to send as much information as possible to the people of China.

He said the group has set up a fund under the Committee Supporting Chinese Democratic Movement. Contributions may be sent to Prof. T. Teng, USC Department of Geological Science, Mailing Code 0740, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90089.

Also appealing for money were organizers of the Red Cross-BBMC (Black Band Movement Committee), 1800 S. Robertson Blvd., No. 800, Los Angeles 90035. The organization, which is urging people to wear black armbands in mourning for the fallen students of Beijing, said the relief fund was set up through the American Red Cross.

Times staff writer Valarie Basheda, in San Francisco, contributed to this story.

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