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Several North Korean Asylum Seekers Expected to Leave China Soon - 2002-08-02

China is expected to allow a group of North Korean asylum-seekers to leave soon for South Korea. The North Koreans have spent more than a week in Seoul's Beijing embassy complex.

A South Korean diplomat said the group of North Koreans will likely arrive in Seoul this weekend via a third country in Southeast Asia. But the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday, some of the asylum-seekers will likely stay behind in Beijing.

Last week, the South Korean embassy official said Chinese police allege that a number of the North Koreans have committed crimes in China. Chinese authorities apparently want to investigate their backgrounds further. The diplomat did not reveal how many would remain at Seoul's mission in Beijing.

A North Korean refugee aid group in Seoul, Good Friends, says it expects 13 defectors to arrive there in the next few days. Erica Kang, a coordinator for the group," said "one of them has a new-born baby, as far as we know. And there's one child, an 8-year-old child, with them."

Ms. Kang's group helps run a cultural education program for the refugees after they reach South Korea. She said the North Koreans need several months of legal and emotional counseling before they can adjust to their new life in Seoul. "Once any North Korean defectors arrive in South Korea, they have to go through an institution," she said. "It's sort of like a school to get to know South Korean culture."

Ms. Kang said tens-of-thousands of North Koreans have fled to neighboring China, escaping famine and persecution at home. Dozens of North Koreans have sought refuge at foreign diplomatic compounds in Beijing and northeast China this year.

Beijing has a treaty with ally Pyongyang requiring it to return North Korean asylum-seekers. But it has allowed most of those who enter diplomatic missions to leave China for South Korea via a third country.

China has responded to the surge of asylum-seekers by carrying out mass arrests of North Koreans living in the country illegally. Beijing has also increased security in its embassy districts by hiring more armed guards and putting up barbed wire fences.