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Japan May Help North Korean Refugees Leave China - 2004-09-02


The fate of 29 North Koreans remains unclear after they penetrated a Japanese school in Beijing Wednesday. Japanese officials on Thursday indicated they might help the asylum seekers go to a third country.

Japanese diplomats here continued to question the 29 people Thursday, one day after they broke into a Japanese school in the Chinese Capital using wire cutters to get through the fence.

Diplomats here and in Japan are discussing what to do with the 11 men, 15 women, and three children. They apparently are asking to go to South Korea.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, speaking in Tokyo Thursday, said Japan would treat the group fairly. However, he stopped short of saying whether his government was prepared to issue them visas or otherwise help them to get out of China.

"We always deal with these situations in a humanitarian manner and will handle this incident in the same way," he said.

Thousands of North Koreans flee poverty and political repression in their communist homeland, most of them through China. Some have sought refuge by entering foreign diplomatic missions in China.

Beijing, which maintains good relations with Pyongyang, considers North Korean asylum seekers to be illegal migrants and routinely sends them home. On a number of occasions, however, Beijing has allowed them to travel on to other countries, particularly in high profile situations, such as when they seek asylum in embassies.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan gave no indication of what course China might take in the case of the 29 asylum seekers at the Japanese mission.

"The Chinese government received a report from the Japanese embassy saying that there some people penetrated the Japanese school. From what I understand so far, the security bureau is still investigating this," he said.

In July, 468 North Koreans were flown to South Korea from an unidentified country. Pyongyang officials were enraged by the incident, and called it a "mass kidnapping." It was the largest mass defection of North Koreans since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

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