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N. Korean Asylum Seekers Arrive in S. Korea - 2002-06-24

Twenty-six North Korean asylum-seekers are in South Korea, closing a month-long diplomatic wrangle between South Korea and China. The refugees arrived in South Korea Monday morning, after a brief stop in a third nation on their way from China.

A pregnant refugee was in tears as she met with journalists. She says she is glad her wish to give birth and raise her baby in South Korea has been fulfilled.

An older man said he was beaten and harshly treated when he was seized by Chinese police. He says his shoulders still hurt, but he was well treated once he was in custody.

He is appears to be the man Chinese security guards dragged out of the South Korean consulate a few weeks ago. South Korea called the action a serious violation of diplomatic rules, and the incident raised tensions between Seoul and Beijing on the asylum-seeker issue.

Two dozen North Korean defectors managed to get past guards to get into South Korean diplomatic buildings in Beijing over the past month. Two others entered Canada's embassy.

Thirty-eight previous refugees sheltering in diplomatic facilities had been allowed to leave China this year, after a few days of talks between Beijing and the embassy involved. For this latest group, however, negotiations dragged on for weeks, with China demanding at first that the North Koreans be turned over to police.

Chinese state television said Beijing would allow the North Koreans to leave, but in return, expected Seoul to do more to stop the flow of illegal migrants.

Human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of North Koreans are hiding in China after fleeing starvation and repression at home.

Under a treaty with communist ally and neighbor North Korea, China sends home any North Korean migrants it catches. But aid agencies say China has an obligation to allow asylum seekers to meet with United Nations officials and appeal for protection as political refugees.