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North Korean Asylum Seekers Leave China - 2002-05-16

Two North Korean asylum seekers who sought refuge at the Canadian embassy in Beijing have left China. They left late Wednesday for Singapore and are expected to continue on to South Korea.

Canadian embassy officials in Beijing confirmed the departure of the two North Koreans, following days of diplomatic negotiations. The young married couple, said to be in their 20s, had been asking for political asylum in Seoul since they entered Canada's embassy on Saturday.

The two were the latest in a growing number of North Koreans who enter foreign embassies in China in the hope of making their way to South Korea. The defectors cause a diplomatic headache for China, which is a close Communist ally of the North.

A separate incident, in which five North Koreans were seized at the Japanese consulate in the northern Chinese city of Shenyang, has caused a diplomatic row between China and Japan. The two sides are reportedly near reaching a settlement.

To prevent further such incidents, China has tightened security around foreign diplomatic missions in Beijing.

Tens-of-thousands of North Koreans are believed to have crossed the border to China in an attempt to flee hunger at home. China treats the defectors as illegal economic migrants, not political refugees, and deports them to North Korea where, human rights groups say, they will likely face harsh treatment by the authorities.