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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 15:41 GMT
N Korean refugees reach Philippines
German doctor shows photos of asylum seekers
The group said it was forced to flee in desperation
A group of 25 North Korean asylum seekers who sought refuge in the Spanish embassy in Beijing have arrived in the Philippines, en route to South Korea.

The group arrived in Manila on a China Southern commercial flight late on Friday, Manila airport authorities said. Journalists were prevented from seeing or approaching the group.

The group pushes into the Spanish embassy
The group pushed its way past the embassy guards
They had left Beijing shortly after Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji announced a deal had been struck that would allow them to leave the country.

The group - which includes 13 men and 12 women aged from about 14 to 52 - forced their way into the embassy on Thursday, threatening to commit suicide if China tried to send them back home.

Our correspondent in Beijing, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says the Chinese Government has moved with remarkable speed to end this potentially embarrassing situation.

A Philippine foreign ministry official said the North Koreans would use Manila only as a transit point, and would not enter the Philippines in the legal sense.

'Risky strategy'

The Philippines has diplomatic relations with both Koreas and it has more than once allowed itself to be used as a staging post for North Korean defectors who wish to go to South Korea.

Defection rates
2001 - 583
2000 - 312
1999 - 148
Source: NIS
But China has an agreement with Pyongyang to return fleeing North Koreans, and many have previously been sent home.

However, seven members of a North Korean family were allowed to leave for South Korea - via a third country - last year after they had sought refuge in a United Nations office in Beijing.

Our correspondent says the danger for Beijing is that acting in this way will encourage more North Koreans to try to do the same.

There are believed to be up to 300,000 North Korean refugees living inside northeast China. Some activists say they are preparing fresh attempts to get more refugees into other foreign embassies in Beijing.

The North Koreans involved in this latest incident pushed past helpless guards outside the Spanish embassy gates on Thursday morning.

A brief statement released on behalf of the group said they had been forced to flee North Korea in desperation. Many of those in the group had fled to China before, but were forcibly repatriated.

They said they suffered imprisonment and torture in North Korea.

The statement passed to reporters said they were ordinary farmers and workers.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes
"The Chinese Government has resolved this with unusual speed"
See also:

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
22 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
POW flees North Korea
14 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korean talks collapse
13 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Man flees North Korea twice
30 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Koreans reach southern refuge
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