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South Koreans Fighting Eviction of a North Korean School in Tokyo

A group of South Koreans, including more than 30 members of that country's National Assembly, are appealing to Tokyo's metropolitan government not to evict a Korean elementary school from land that it has used rent-free from decades. What is remarkable about the support from South Korea is that the school is run by an association allied with communist North Korea.

For nearly 60 years the Edagawa Korean School has existed on property owned by the Tokyo metropolitan government. The Koreans had come to believe they were promised use of the land rent-free in perpetuity. But the local government, headed by nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara, is suing to get the land back and asking for $4 million in rent from the time the actual lease expired in 1990.

Several members of South Korea's National Assembly were in Tokyo Friday to voice their support for the 60 student school, which is one of eight in the Japanese capital run by a pro-Pyongyang association of Korean residents.

Lawmaker Yoo Ki Hong, of South Korea's Uri Party, says their support has nothing to do with ideology but rather involves a fight to ensure the fundamental rights of Korean children, who have been discriminated against and suppressed in Japan, to an education in their own language.

Mr. Yoo says because South and North Korea will eventually be united, the students of the Edagawa Korean school are also South Korea's children.

The South Korean supporters say they believe Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara is acting out of revenge towards Pyongyang. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations, in great part because of a stalemate over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents during the Cold War. Pyongyang contends those who have not been repatriated are dead. Tokyo says North Korea's explanations have not been satisfactory.

Lee Young Soon of South Korea's Democratic Labor Party, speaking at a Friday news conference in Tokyo, called on the Japanese people to understand Koreans' feelings about the small school. Ms. Lee says three generations in downtown Tokyo have attended the school, which was built with the blood, sweat and tears of Koreans.

Elders of the Edagawa Korean community say they were forcibly moved to their present site - which had been a garbage dump - prior to World War II to make way for facilities for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which were never held. They contend the current Tokyo metropolitan government wants to evict them again, this time to make way for high-rise condominiums or some other modern development project.

Local government officials deny having any political motives for their action. They say the school has repeatedly turned down the opportunity to buy 4,000 square meters of land - on which sits the athletic field, parking lot and part of the school building - at a market price of about $10 million. The school says buying the land at that price is out of the question because it operates on a shoestring annual budget of less than $50,000.