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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
N Koreans storm Japanese school
A journalist looks over wall under a hole in fencing made by a group of 29 people claiming to be North Korean asylum-seekers as a ladder and chairs used by them are left behind Wednesday, Sept. 1, 200
The asylum seekers scaled a wall and cut a hole in the fence
A group of 29 people claiming to be North Korean defectors have forced their way into a Japanese school in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

Reports from South Korea say the government in Seoul has confirmed it is willing to accept them and has asked China for its help in doing so.

The defectors are likely to be flown to the South via a third country.

The group, which includes some children, is one of the largest to seek asylum at foreign missions in China.

The defectors are thought to have cut through a wire fence to get into the compound.

They were then questioned by Japanese officials to check their identities, according to media reports.

Park Joon-woo, director general of the South Korean Asia-Pacific affairs bureau, said later that Seoul would accept the group, and called for Chinese co-operation in doing so, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Desperate to leave

In recent years, increasing numbers of North Koreans have entered foreign embassies and consulates in Beijing, in the hope of securing passage to South Korea.

Last year, four defectors gained entry to another Japanese school in Beijing, and eventually reached Seoul via Singapore.

Hundreds of refugees successfully defect to South Korea each year, fleeing a secretive poverty-stricken state which is at loggerheads with the international community over its nuclear programme.

But it is almost impossible to cross the border between North and South Korea - which is divided by a Demilitarised Zone guarded by some two million troops on both sides.

Most refugees therefore attempt to leave through China, where they seek help from foreign embassies or travel to a third country in the hope of reaching the South.

China, however, is formally obliged by a treaty with its ally North Korea to send them home. In practice, this rarely happens with cases which become public.

According to the BBC's correspondent in China, Francis Markus, this latest episode shows that what China regards as an awkward and embarrassing issue is not about to go away.

The issue also risks harming other nations' relations with North Korea.

When more than 460 North Korean refugees were airlifted to the South in July from an unidentified South East Asian nation - believed to be Vietnam - Pyongyang called it "premeditated abduction and terrorism" orchestrated by Seoul.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang reportedly recalled one of its ambassadors from an unnamed South East Asian country - again, thought to be Vietnam - to protest its role in the defection.

The BBC's Francis Markus
"Their numbers are larger than many of the groups who have managed to get into embassies and consulates"

Refugees flood S Korea mission
06 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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