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S. Korean Embassy Temporarily Closes

Officials say the facility in Beijing is overrun with asylum-seeking refugees from North Korea, and they must clear some out to work.

October 07, 2003|From Associated Press

BEIJING — South Korea's embassy in the Chinese capital is overrun by North Korean asylum-seekers and is halting consular operations until it can clear out some of them, a South Korean diplomat said Monday.

The diplomat, on condition of anonymity, said the closure would take effect today. The decision means that millions of Chinese -- and foreigners in China -- seeking visas to South Korea are out of luck for now.

"The number of North Korean refugees who are staying within the inside of the consulate is beyond our capacity," the diplomat said in a telephone interview. "So it makes it difficult to do our consular jobs."

Armed Chinese guards stopped unauthorized visitors Monday from entering the consular office, in a walled gray building in eastern Beijing. The embassy proper is in a separate building nearby.

The diplomat wouldn't say how long the office would be closed or how many North Korean asylum-seekers were inside. But South Korean news agency Yonhap said that about 120 North Koreans were inside the embassy's consular section and that the facility normally can temporarily house 60 people.

Scores of North Koreans seeking to escape the harsh rule of Kim Jong Il have darted into diplomatic compounds in Beijing and other parts of China in the last 15 months.

They have scaled fences and elbowed past Chinese paramilitary guards at the gates to reach diplomatic territory beyond the legal reach of the Beijing government. Typically, they eventually reach South Korea through a third country after the Chinese government quietly allows them to leave.

As the North's biggest ally, China has a treaty with Pyongyang requiring it to send back any illegal escapees. But it hasn't always done so in cases that have become public, fearing international backlash.

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