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China:  Future N. Korean Refugee Cases Will be Treated Differently - 2002-03-19

China's government says there will not be a repeat of last week's decision to allow more than two dozen North Koreans to leave the country after they took refuge in the Spanish embassy.

Zhang Qiyue of the foreign ministry says future cases will be treated differently.

Ms. Zhang did not specify how China would handle any possible future cases of North Koreans trying to get out of China. But she warned individuals and organizations that "stir up trouble" and "deliberately challenge Chinese laws" that the government will not allow or ignore their actions in the future.

The comment follows last week's incident that began when 25 North Koreans rushed into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing. The building was quickly surrounded by dozens of police, but after a day and a night of talks, the asylum seekers were put on a plane for Manila before eventually making their way to South Korea.

It is the second similar incident in less than a year. In the first, a family of seven people walked into a United Nations' office in Beijing and demanded help. After days of negotiations, they also ended up in South Korea.

Chinese officials fear that allowing free passage to fleeing North Koreans might inspire others to sneak across the border into China at a time when unemployment and social stability are a major concern for Beijing.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have already fled hunger at home and are hiding illegally in China. When they are caught by Chinese officials, they are treated as economic migrants and quickly sent home. But foreign human rights groups say at least some of the fleeing North Koreans should be considered political refugees and offered a safe haven.

The issue is a difficult one for the Beijing government because it has ideological ties with communist North Korea and important trade ties with South Korea.