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N. Koreans Leave China for Asylum in South

September 12, 2002|From Associated Press

INCHON, South Korea — In the biggest one-day exodus of North Korean asylum seekers coming from China, 36 people who had been holed up at two sites in Beijing arrived in South Korea today.

The North Koreans arrived in two groups at Inchon International Airport, about 35 miles west of Seoul. The first group, 21 people who had sheltered at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing, arrived via Manila aboard an Asiana Airlines flight.

An hour later, 15 people who had taken refuge at a German government school, flew in via Singapore aboard a Korean Air Lines flight.

Their arrival pushed to 729 the number of North Koreans who have defected to South Korea this year, 146 more than the number who defected in 2001.

According to Seoul officials, at least two dozen more North Koreans were still in the South Korean Embassy in Beijing awaiting permission to leave China. It was the first time that the embassy had disclosed that it was housing such a large number of asylum seekers.

Since March, more than 100 North Koreans have been allowed to leave for South Korea after seeking asylum in foreign offices and facilities in China.

As many as 26 North Koreans are reportedly being held by the Chinese. Beijing is obligated by treaty to send home fleeing North Koreans. But it has let them leave for the South in cases that became public, perhaps for fear of a foreign outcry. China has tried to discourage asylum bids by stringing barbed wire around diplomatic offices and posting more armed guards.

Thousands of North Koreans live in hiding in China's northeast.

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