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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 06:41 GMT 07:41 UK
Talks due on Korean asylum seekers
Extra security near Beijing embassy
China has beefed up its security measures in Beijing
Chinese and South Korean diplomats are expected to meet on Monday to discuss the fate of three North Koreans who took refuge in the South Korean consulate in Beijing last week.

A South Korean diplomat said it was unclear if China would let the three leave for Seoul.

"They want to go to South Korea... but this case is a little different from those involving other countries," he told Reuters news agency.

Recent North Korean escapes to South via China
June 2001 Family of seven who sheltered in UN office in Beijing
March 2002 25 people who entered Spain's Beijing embassy
May 2002 Five people from US and Canadian diplomatic sites
May 2002 Five relatives taken by Chinese police from Japanese consulate
China regards North Koreans living inside its borders as economic migrants and often sends them home.

But there has been a string of high-profile cases recently where North Koreans have successfully sought refuge in foreign offices.

China has let these people leave for Seoul via third countries.

Correspondents say the latest case is more complicated because it will pressure China into choosing whether to offend North or South Korea.

The last known case where a North Korean sought asylum in the south having entered a South Korean mission in China was in 1997.

Latest cases

In the latest case, one man entered the embassy on Thursday, while a man and woman who appeared to be a couple rushed in past guards on Friday.
Three of the five asylum seekers who successfully arrived in South Korea this week
Successful refugee bids may be promping others to try too

It brings to more than 40 the number of North Koreans who have sought refuge at foreign diplomatic missions in China in the past three months.

Last week, five North Korean asylum-seekers arrived in South Korea after being held in custody in China for two weeks.

They had attempted to enter the Japanese consulate before being arrested, and the case caused a diplomatic row between Beijing and Tokyo.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled famine and repression to live in China.

Many then attempt to apply for asylum in foreign diplomatic offices.

China has a treaty with its ally North Korea, under which it is required to return all illegal refugees to the hard-line communist state.

But Beijing has been unwilling to do so, apparently out of concern that sending them home would harm its international reputation.

In recent months, China has increased security around embassies and consulates to thwart further asylum attempts, ringing the compounds with barbed wire and posting additional guards.

But North Korean refugees seem determined to keep trying to enter the diplomatic missions.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

25 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
18 May 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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