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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 10:57 GMT
'Manhunt' for N Korean defectors
A Chinese military police guard, right, struggles to stop a North Korean asylum-seeker
Activists say they plan more embassy attempts
China and North Korea are reported to have launched a massive manhunt for North Koreans hiding in China following last week's defection by 25 North Koreans.

Activists on the North Korea-China border said North Korean agents have crossed into China to round up hundreds of North Koreans.

North Korean defectors pictured through a bus window following their arrival in Seoul
The 25 North Koreans are staying in safe houses in Seoul
Up to 300,000 North Koreans are thought to be hiding in China, having escaped their country because of serious food shortages or for political reasons.

The 25 North Koreans involved in last week's drama had pushed their way into the Spanish embassy in Beijing demanding safe passage to the South.

They arrived in Seoul on Monday having threatened suicide if China tried to send them back to the North.

Some activists say they are preparing fresh attempts to get more refugees into other foreign embassies in Beijing.

Chinese warning

A South Korean evangelist missionary group which works with North Koreans in China said up to 150 Chinese and North Korean agents were hunting north-eastern provinces, checking homes, building sites, markets and bars.

"Many truckloads of arrested North Korean escapees are being taken away every day. Some of them commit suicide by jumping over the bridge into the Yalu River," the Yerang Mission said.

The news came from a missionary on the ground, the group said.

A German doctor who helped organise the embassy defection has received similar information from contacts in the area.

China has warned South Korean groups against helping North Koreans to flee.

"If this situation continues unchecked, there will certainly arise difficulties in Sino-South Korea relations," China's ambassador to Seoul, Li Bin, told reporters on Wednesday.

China is North Korea's closest ally and regards the defectors as economic migrants rather than political refugees.

It has sent back those caught on its territory under a bilateral treaty with North Korea.

In a rare move, the 25 North Koreans who stormed the embassy were allowed to start a new life in South Korea. They were the biggest group of defectors to arrive in the south since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Seven members of a North Korean family were allowed to leave for South Korea last year after they had sought refuge in a United Nations office in Beijing.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Defectors arrive in South Korea
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Koreans' embassy dash
13 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
US offers N Korea 'unconditional' talks
03 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Record numbers' defect to S Korea
26 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's North Koreans in hiding
14 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korean talks collapse
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