South Koreans ask China to treat refugees well

North Koreans defect at embassy in Beijing


SEOUL, South Korea - The South Korean Embassy in Beijing said yesterday that three North Koreans had sought refuge there, and the South Korean government demanded that Chinese authorities treat the case "in a humanitarian manner."

South Korean authorities said a North Korean man had entered the embassy Thursday under a false pretext and that a man and a woman had walked into the embassy's consular section shortly before it closed Friday and insisted on staying.

The entries by the three into the South Korean Embassy were the latest in a series of defections by North Koreans through foreign embassies and consulates in China. It was the first time North Koreans had entered a South Korean building in China, however, since Hwang Jang Yop, former secretary of the North Korean Workers Party, and an aide received asylum in the embassy in February 1997 and stayed there for 34 days before flying to the Philippines and then to Seoul.

The South Korean government requested that Chinese authorities treat the latest defections as they had previous cases "involving other foreign diplomatic facilities," according to Yonhap, the semiofficial South Korean news agency.

China has permitted 38 North Koreans who have sought refuge in foreign embassies or consulates to go to Seoul this year via either Singapore or Manila, including five North Koreans who arrived in Seoul last week after the Chinese police removed them from the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang and held them for nearly two weeks.

The defections, however, have aroused widespread concern about a Chinese crackdown on North Korean refugees and those trying to assist them. China has reinforced its police and military units along its border with North Korea, searching for refugees among the ethnic Koreans who dominate that region. Estimates of the number of North Koreans living as illegal refugees in China vary from 100,000 to 300,000.

Three Christian ministers, all originally from South Korea, are being held in China for their activities with refugees, according to Douglas Shin, a minister based in Los Angeles who has spent the past few years assisting refugees from North Korea. One of them, a Korean-American, was picked up while sheltering 14 North Korean children in the city of Yanji, near the Tumen River border with North Korea. Another is held in Yanji, said Shin, and a third was jailed in Inner Mongolia, near the border with Mongolia.

Shin defended efforts by North Koreans to seek refuge in diplomatic offices despite the strong response of the Chinese authorities.

"Now it takes about 72 hours for the Chinese to let them leave," said Shin, in Seoul. "People will realize it's a good idea."

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