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6 Claiming to Be North Koreans Enter German School in Beijing Seeking Asylum - 2004-06-01

Some six people identifying themselves as North Koreans entered the compound of the German school in the Chinese capital on Tuesday seeking asylum.

The group entered the German school in Beijing early Tuesday by climbing a wall to get into the compound.

One man was quickly refused asylum because diplomats could not confirm he was indeed from North Korea. The rest are now reported to be in the German Embassy in Beijing.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao stressed that whatever the details, the action broke the law.

He describes the group as illegally entering Chinese territory and says the six people broke into the German school early Tuesday.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry says it will need to confirm the asylum seekers are actually escapees from North Korea. A ministry spokesman says diplomatic discussions with China and Germany will then follow.

An estimated 300,000 North Koreans are said to be hiding in China, escaping political repression and hunger in their communist homeland.

China considers them economic migrants, not political refugees, and has an agreement with North Korea to repatriate those caught.

Human rights activists say that those deported back to North Korea face imprisonment or even execution. The research director of the Hong Kong-based private organization, Human Rights in China, Nicholas Becquelin is among those critical of China's policy. "China has an obligation under international law and one of them is to not forcibly repatriate to countries where they can face torture and other inhuman treatment," said Mr. Becquelin. "China has constantly, consistently refused to abide or even to address the issue and this is ironical because China is the main backer of the North Korean regime."

In the past two years, activists have helped hundreds of North Koreans sneak into foreign diplomatic facilities in China to claim asylum, putting tremendous diplomatic pressure on Beijing.

China has eventually allowed some 200 North Korean defectors to head to South Korea via a third country.