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North Korean Asylum-Seekers Take Refuge at Japanese Embassy in Bangkok - 2003-07-31


A group of 10 people thought to be North Koreans entered the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok [Thursday] seeking asylum. South Korea has indicated it will accept the 10 as refugees, provided their identities can be confirmed.

Japanese Embassy officials say the four men, four women and two children made their rush into the embassy during mid-morning.

Embassy spokesman Hisaki Nakasuki described how the group gained access to the compound.

"At about 10:35 the embassy gate was open to allow an embassy car to come back and they passed beside the car and came into the embassy premises while shouting something like 'North Korea,' " he explained.

The refugees reportedly speak only Korean, and a Korean-speaking Japanese diplomat was dispatched from Seoul later in the day to interview them.

Thai police said the group was carrying documents issued by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The children, a boy and a girl, were said to be under 10 years of age.

Mr. Nakasuki said the people were being cared for at the embassy while the investigation into their identities continues.

But in a quick reaction, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said that if the refugees' identities could be verified, they would be allowed to travel to Seoul. An official at the South Korean Embassy in Bangkok indicated the same thing.

While this method of obtaining asylum is rare in Thailand, North Korean refugees have been storming diplomatic missions in China for over a year.

More than 100 North Koreans have won passage to South Korea in this way. China is required by treaty to return any North Korean refugees that come across their common border, but instead has generally allowed such refugees to travel by way of third countries to South Korea.

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