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Refugees, Arrested Businessman Trouble N. Korea-China Ties - 2002-10-08

China is investigating three North Koreans who climbed a wall into a German school and housing compound in Beijing on Monday. The three are now thought to be inside the German Embassy.

The incident follows successful attempts last month by two groups of North Koreans to enter the compound. Those refugees were eventually allowed to go to South Korea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue indicated Tuesday that security will be increased at the compound to prevent more such incidents. Ms. Zhang says efforts should be made to avoid interfering with the teaching in the German school, for the sake of the safety of the teachers and students. She also says the two governments are discussing the fate of the three North Koreans.

It is believed that between 100,000 and 300,000 North Koreans fleeing hunger and political repression are living in China illegally. In the past year, more than 100 of them have made it into foreign diplomatic facilities to seek asylum. Despite Beijing's close ties with Pyongyang, it has allowed them to travel to South Korea.

China also confirmed on Tuesday it has placed businessman Yang Bin under house arrest while he is investigated for tax evasion.

One of China's richest men, Mr. Yang was taken into custody last Friday. He was just about to leave for Sinuiju, a special North Korean economic zone Pyongyang had hired him to develop in hopes of attracting foreign investment.

Last week, Mr. Yang admitted he owed about $1.2 million in real estate development taxes. But he said he had worked out a deal with the Chinese tax authorities and would pay soon.

The Foreign Ministry's Ms. Zhang said Tuesday Mr. Yang's detention is not related to the Sinuiju development project.

A spokesman for Mr. Yang says he does not know if Mr. Yang will lose his post as head of Sinuiju because of his tax problems.