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South Korea Protests China's Arrest of North Korean Asylum Seeker - 2002-06-14

Seoul is protesting China's violent arrest of an asylum seeker inside the South Korean consulate in Beijing. Other nations also are expressing concern over the incident.

South Korea's government summoned China's ambassador in Seoul to the Foreign Ministry Friday to express its anger. South Korean officials call Thursday's incident in Beijing "extremely regrettable."

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington is "extremely concerned" that Chinese police violated "a bedrock principle" of international relations by entering the consulate.

Thursday in Beijing, two North Koreans rushed into the South Korean consulate in a bid for asylum and passage to South Korea. Chinese police went into the facility and seized one of the migrants, and a scuffle broke out.

Television pictures show South Korean diplomats trying to block a number of Chinese police from dragging the North Korean away. There is pushing, shoving, punching and kicking. One diplomat was thrown to the ground and others were scraped and bruised and had torn clothing.

Eventually, police overwhelmed the diplomats and dragged the man to a waiting van, then drove off.

South Korea says China violated international rules. Usually foreign diplomatic facilities are off limits to officials in the host country unless they get permission to enter from embassy staff.

China's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that embassies do not have the right to grant asylum to migrants and demands that all illegal migrants be turned over to police. About 18 migrants are now hiding in the South Korean consulate.

Canadian diplomats say two more are staying in Canada's Beijing embassy, and negotiations are under way with China's government on their fate.

Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of North Koreans are illegally hiding in China after fleeing famine and repression at home. Dozens of them have scrambled past guards and barbed-wire fences to get into diplomatic buildings. Once inside, they demand asylum and safe passage to South Korea.

Until now, China has let them go. But Beijing is signaling a newer, tougher stand toward the refugees. Officials may be worried that allowing too many refugees to escape through China will spark a flood of migrants out of starving North Korea.