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North Korean Asylum Seekers in US Embassy to Leave China for Third Country - 2002-04-27

Two North Koreans who entered a U.S. Embassy compound in Beijing will be resettled in a third country.

A U.S. embassy spokesman declined to say which country has accepted the North Koreans, but said it was not the United States.

The two entered the compound Friday, in the latest in a growing series of such incidents. Thursday, a North Korean asylum seeker climbed over a wall into the German Embassy in Beijing. In March, 25 North Korean asylum seekers entered the Spanish Embassy. They eventually settled in South Korea, after stopping first in the Philippines.

The incidents put China in an awkward position. It is torn by its Communist North Korean ally, its South Korean economic partner, and pressure from the U.N. refugee agency. China considers people fleeing impoverished North Korea to be economic migrants, rather than refugees, and has sent many back. The United Nations wants China to recognize them as refugees.

Those who manage to get into embassies usually are allowed to leave China, and are sent first to the Philippines, then on to Seoul. By sending the asylum seekers through the Philippines, China avoids letting them travel directly to South Korea.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry says the North Koreans already have left the U.S. Embassy. They will be accepted in South Korea if they wish.

A German Embassy spokesman said the North Korean asylum seeker there is expected to leave for Manila, on his way to South Korea.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Koreans have sought refuge in northeastern China in recent years, fleeing famine and repression at home.

North Korea and South Korea never signed a peace treaty ending the Korean War in the 1950s, and are still technically in a state of war.