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Chinese Police Prevent S. Korean Lawmakers Talk on N. Korean Refugees


Chinese security agents have prevented a group of South Korean legislators from holding a news conference on the status of North Korean refugees in China. Scuffles broke out as agents moved in to prevent the South Korean officials from speaking.

The four members of the South Korean national assembly had traveled to China on an official mission to learn more about the cases of a number of North Korean refugees currently in prison in China. The South Korean legislators planned to request that China show leniency and compassion toward the North Korean refugees and allow them passage to a third country. As their news conference was getting under way, lights in the room were turned off and Chinese agents stormed in, ordering reporters to leave.

South Korean parliament member Kim Moon-soo expressed horror at the Chinese officials' actions.

Mr. Kim says he thinks Wednesday's incident reflects the status of the South Korean government in China and also the status of the North Korean refugees in China and how Beijing perceives the situation.

The four legislators are members of South Korea's opposition Grand National Party, which takes a hard line on the communist North and is critical of China's stance on North Koreans who attempt to flee the Stalinist regime via Chinese territory. China refuses to recognize the North Koreans as refugees and routinely repatriates them to North Korea, where they often face harsh punishment for trying to flee.

Mr. Kim expressed dismay that Chinese authorities interrupted the news conference and gave no reason for their actions.

"We cannot believe that this is how the Chinese government treats us today," he said. " We are members of the national assembly of the Republic of Korea, and we have diplomatic passports. We are not here to say something against the Chinese government."

The stalemate lasted several hours into the night Wednesday as the South Korean officials refused to leave the hotel conference room, demanding that Chinese authorities allow them to read a statement.

The South Korean legislators said they had done nothing wrong and expressed anger that the Chinese agents had refused to identify themselves and failed to explain why they had stormed the news conference.

Chinese officials, however, indicated the South Korean officials had not obtained the necessary authorization to hold a briefing while in China. A South Korean diplomat said the Chinese government requested the group leave the country immediately.