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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Japan-China refugees row deepens
Chinese police hold down a female North Korea asylum seeker
Five North Koreans were taken from Japan's consulate
A diplomatic row between Japan and China deepened on Monday when Japan denied China's version of events surrounding five North Korean asylum seekers.

Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Chinese guards seized the five from inside Japan's consulate in the north-eastern Chinese city of Shenyang last Wednesday without permission, thereby breaking diplomatic conventions.

When the Chinese police entered the consulate, it's not true that the Japanese side gave consent

Yoriko Kawaguchi
China claimed that a Japanese official had permitted its police to enter the embassy and had later thanked them for their presence.

Japan's angry reaction has added to China's difficulties over the issue because its officials are also locked in negotiations over five other North Koreans, three of which are in the US consulate in Shenyang and two of which are in Canada's embassy in Beijing.

North Koreans have defected to South Korea via China for many years, but recent, high-profile escape bids have shed light on what was previously a murky subject.

Ms Kawaguchi was speaking after a team of Japanese diplomats, dispatched to Shenyang to investigate the incident, completed its investigation.

"When the Chinese police entered the consulate, it's not true that the Japanese side gave consent," she said.

Chinese military police officers march near the US and Japanese embassies in Beijing
Despite tightened security, asylum seekers are still getting through

Asked whether the five seized North Koreans might be sent to a third country, Ms Kawaguchi repeated Tokyo's demand that they be handed back to Japanese custody.

"Needless to say, what is most important is that their human rights be respected," she said.

The incident triggered widespread concern in Japan after television pictures showed the five asylum seekers, including a screaming toddler, attempting to reach sanctuary in the consulate before being dragged from the compound by Chinese police.

Ms Kawaguchi denied that Japan was compliant in the operation:

"It is not the case that the Japanese side gave consent nor did we express any gratitude," she said.

South Korea has said it is willing to take the five as refugees.

Canada and US

Canadian and Chinese officials are expected to resume talks over the fate of two other North Korean asylum seekers - a man and woman - who succeeded in entering the Canadian embassy in Beijing on Saturday.

Talks are also continuing between the US and China over three North Korean asylum seekers who last week made it inside the American consulate-general in Shenyang.

China has become increasingly worried about North Koreans seeking asylum through foreign offices in China.

In 2001 a North Korean family walked into the UN refugee agency in Beijing demanding asylum, and in March 2002, 25 North Koreans successfully entered the Spanish embassy in Beijing demanding political asylum in South Korea.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says that over the past two weeks the Chinese Government has gone to enormous lengths to try to prevent more North Korean asylum seekers from getting into foreign embassies.

Embassy compounds have been ringed with barbed-wire and surrounded by armed guards, some even wielding baseball bats.

Beijing regards the tens of thousands of impoverished North Koreans living in China as economic migrants who must be sent home.

But in recent cases, the asylum seekers were allowed to go to South Korea, perhaps prompting other groups to try similar tactics.

See also:

13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
China's asylum headache
12 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
China asylum problem grows
11 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
China asylum row escalates
09 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japan-China spat over North Koreans
08 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korean refugees held in China
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Koreans storm Spanish embassy
13 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
US offers N Korea 'unconditional' talks
26 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's North Koreans in hiding
03 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Record numbers' defect to S Korea
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