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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 02:43 GMT 03:43 UK
North Koreans arrive in Seoul
The three were given permission to leave China two days ago
The three will now be debriefed by South Korean officials
Three North Koreans who sought asylum in the South Korean embassy in Beijing last month have arrived in Seoul, two days after China said they could leave.

The three included two men and a woman, who identified herself as a football player and said she wanted to continue her career.


I am now delighted to land here. I want to go on with my life as a soccer player

North Korean woman
They flew in from Bangkok and appeared briefly before the media before being escorted by security officers to a government safe house.

Their release followed intensive negotiations between South Korea and China, whose relations have been severely tested by the increasing number of North Koreans trying to gain asylum by entering foreign embassies in China

So far this year, nearly 70 North Koreans have fled to the South via diplomatic missions in Beijing and other cities.

Last month, 24 defectors who had also taken refuge in the South Korean embassy were allowed to leave, followed by two others who sheltered in the Canadian diplomatic mission.

They were allowed to go after a month-long diplomatic dispute between China and South Korea over their status was settled.

China, anxious not to upset its North Korean ally, has tightened security around diplomatic compounds.

Fake cards

Tens of thousands of North Koreans are believed to be in living in hiding in China, having fled their famine-stricken homeland.

And correspondents say many possess fake identity cards allowing them to pose as ethnic Korean Chinese and slip into diplomatic areas on supposed legitimate business.

The North Koreans who arrived in Seoul on Monday included a 24-year-old woman, who said she had been on a woman's football team in North Korea,

"I am now delighted to land here. I want to go on with my life as a soccer player," she said.

The other defectors included a former soldier and a worker, South Korean officials said.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

24 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
18 May 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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