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Five North Korean Refugees Arrive in South Korea - 2002-05-23


Five North Korean refugees arrived in South Korea Thursday, two weeks after attempting a daring rush to freedom and sparking a diplomatic incident. The five ran into the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, China, but were dragged out by Chinese guards. Diplomatic tensions between China and Japan are still running high over the incident.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says Tokyo will continue to seek a resolution with China over the actions of the Chinese police.

Japan has lodged a formal protest over the May 8 incident in which Chinese guards entered the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang chasing five North Korean refugees who were seeking Japanese protection from arrest. Tokyo says the police action violates international laws designating diplomatic offices as sovereign foreign territory and Japan is seeking an apology.

But China maintains that Japanese diplomats had asked the guards to enter.

Government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told Parliament that "the disagreement has yet to be resolved and so Japan must continue to make its objections clear to China."

After weeks of negotiations, China allowed the five North Koreans to transit to South Korea resolving the fate of the refugees, but diplomatic fallout persists.

Japanese media reports have criticized the Koizumi government for not reacting forcefully enough to China's actions and allowing itself to be sidelined in negotiations for the refugees' release.

The refugees' struggle with the Chinese police, captured on video tape and shown on television around the world, has also drawn attention to China's policy of refusing to regard illegal North Korean migrants as refugees and frequently repatriating them.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans are said to be hiding in Northeastern China, fleeing famine and political oppression in North Korea.

The five North Korean asylum seekers, two men, two women, and a little girl, arrived at Inchon International Airport near Seoul early Thursday and were taken to a government safe house to rest.

They were met by relatives who had defected to South Korea last year after running into a United Nations office in Beijing and requesting asylum.

One of the refugees says he "thanks God for leading the group to South Korea and also thanks his supporters."

The five people are the latest of several dozen North Koreans who have rushed into diplomatic offices in China this year, claimed asylum and made their way to South Korea via third countries.