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N. Korean Refugees May Have Easier Passage Through China - 2004-04-06


China may make it easier for North Korean refugees to pass through its territory on their way to South Korea. In the meantime, talks about restoring transportation links between the two Koreas appear to be getting back on track.

South Korean officials say China is looking into making it easier for North Koreans to flee to South Korea. Beijing, under an agreement with Pyongyang, usually tries to return the refugees to the North. But in recent years, hundreds of defectors who have sought refuge in diplomatic compounds in China have been allowed to go on to South Korea.

Human rights activists contend defectors returned to North Korea face harsh imprisonment or even execution.

In addition, North and South Korea will resume their working-level talks Thursday on transportation issues and flood prevention measures. Four years ago, the two countries agreed to build railways and roads across the four-kilometer wide border. Talks about shared transportation stalled when the communist North protested joint military drills between South Korea and the United States. The war games ended last week.

China's move on refugees comes as it, along with the United States, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea look to break the impasse over the North Korean nuclear crisis. The second round of six-nation talks wrapped up in February with participants agreeing to the goal of talking again before the end of June.

The talks are stumbling over demands from the United States and its allies that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear programs. U.S. officials say they are meeting with Japanese and South Korean delegation leaders later this month to plot strategy for the next six-way talks.

On Monday in Europe, a nuclear expert says North Korea now has the capability to make a large quantity of nuclear weapons. The executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, Charles Kartman, made the remarks to the European Parliament.

The nuclear crisis erupted 18 months ago when the United States accused North Korea of having a nuclear weapons program and demanded that Pyongyang dismantle it.

An Australian envoy on Tuesday completed a three-day visit to Pyongyang to encourage the communist state to give up its nuclear ambitions. The Australian Foreign Ministry says Ambassador Alan Thomas presented his credentials to Pyongyang and met with the president of North Korea's assembly, Kim Yong Nam, and Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun.

Mr. Thomas is Australia's ambassador to China and now has joint accreditation.

North Korea expelled Australian officials, without explanation, in 1975. Relations normalized in 2000.

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