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Canada Negotiating with China over Latest Asylum Seekers - 2002-05-12

Two North Korean asylum seekers are sheltering in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, the latest among several who have entered embassies in China recently.

The Canadian Embassy in Beijing confirmed Sunday that the two North Koreans, a man and a woman, entered the embassy Saturday morning. They are seeking asylum in a third country.

The Canadian official would not say how they got in, or which country the pair is hoping to reach. Normally, however, North Korean refugees try to go to South Korea.

Canadian diplomats are negotiating with the Chinese authorities, and hope to see the matter resolved as quickly as possible.

Several asylum seekers have sought refuge recently in foreign consular missions in China.

Last week, Chinese police arrested five people thought to be North Korean at a Japanese consulate in northern China. The incident has led to an escalating diplomatic dispute between China and Japan.

In addition, three North Koreans entered a U.S. consulate last week, seeking asylum.

The asylum seekers present China with a dilemma. It has signed a treaty with North Korea pledging to repatriate asylum seekers. However, Beijing faces mounting international pressure to recognize North Korean migrants as refugees, and not return them. China has allowed North Koreans who enter foreign embassies to travel to South Korea via a third country. However, it also has recently beefed up security around most embassies, making it harder for people to enter and claim asylum.

Aid groups say that thousands of North Koreans have crossed into China in the past few years to escape famine and repression in the hard-line communist state.