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N. Korean Bids for Asylum Continue

Asia: In Beijing, 15 people jump a German compound's wall; 20 wait at an embassy.

September 04, 2002|From Associated Press

BEIJING — Fifteen North Koreans jumped a wall at a German government compound Tuesday and were holed up at a school, as a surge in asylum bids by people fleeing their impoverished, repressive homeland continued.

Also Tuesday, a South Korean official disclosed that at least 20 North Koreans were waiting in the South Korean Embassy in Beijing for permission from China to leave the country.

The entry into the German compound came a day after a group of 12 North Koreans tried to use a ladder to climb into a diplomatic apartment complex. They were blocked by Chinese guards, who beat and kicked them. Eight were detained; the others ran away.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, said Tuesday that he had no information on the status of those detained.

China has let dozens of North Koreans leave for the South since March, after they sought refuge in foreign embassies and consulates.

The number of asylum bids has jumped in the last two weeks. In addition to the at least 35 North Koreans in the German compound and the South Korean Embassy, activists say, as many as 18 others have been detained by China.

Despite letting some of the asylum seekers go, China has refused pleas to treat thousands of North Koreans living in its northeast as refugees. The Communist government, the North Korean government's last major ally, insists that they are economic migrants.

Beijing is obligated by treaty to send North Koreans home, and police launch periodic crackdowns aimed at rounding them up.

China has tried to discourage asylum bids by stringing barbed wire and posting more guards outside embassies, which might be encouraging North Koreans to switch to other targets such as the German school compound.

The asylum seekers entered the compound by climbing a wall shortly before 3 p.m. as students were leaving for the day. Most of the North Koreans appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, though one man appeared to be in his 50s or 60s. There were no children.

Reporters saw them walking through the glassed-in hallways of a nine-story apartment building. A guard chased them out, and they ended up sitting on an outdoor staircase at the school adjacent to apartments.

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