- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

BEIJING Chinese police dragged a North Korean asylum seeker away from a South Korean visa office yesterday after punching and kicking diplomats who tried to stop them.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said it issued a note to foreign diplomatic offices demanding that they hand over to Chinese police people who have sought refuge in their missions. Canadian and other missions confirmed they received the note on Wednesday.

At the South Korean facility, one diplomat was punched in the mouth during the scuffle outside the gate of the compound where the man and his son had sought refuge, according to witnesses.

The son remained inside the office, bringing to 18 the number of North Koreans holed up in South Korean diplomatic missions in Beijing, a South Korean official said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement protesting the man's removal as a violation of international law.

"We strongly protest and demand early return of the man," the ministry said in the statement. "We hope this incident will be resolved smoothly on the basis of friendly relations between South Korea and China."

By treaty, diplomatic offices are considered foreign territory that Chinese authorities aren't supposed to enter without permission.

Dozens of North Koreans fleeing famine and repression have sought refuge at U.S., Japanese and other foreign diplomatic offices in China. Two North Koreans have been in the Canadian Embassy since Saturday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said unauthorized entries into diplomatic compounds "not only harm the security of those embassies and interfere with their normal function, but also pose a challenge to the Chinese law and interfere in security and stability in China."

Mr. Liu denied the letter to diplomatic missions indicated any change in policy. He repeated China's assurance that cases would be handled "in accordance to international law, the domestic laws of China and humanitarian principles."

The latest asylum bid began when the father and son entered the visa office a few blocks from Seoul's embassy yesterday morning, the South Korean official said.

Chinese guards entered and took the man outside, where he was held temporarily, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. South Korean news agency Yonhap identified the man only by his surname, Won, and said he was in his mid-50s.

[According to Reuters news agency, his son is 13 years old.]

About a half-dozen South Korean diplomats tried to block police by forming a line outside a guard post where the man was held, said a Yonhap reporter who witnessed the incident.

But about a dozen Beijing municipal police who arrived by van forced their way into the guardhouse, kicking, punching and knocking down diplomats, said the reporter, Lee Sang Min.

A videotape shot by a journalist for South Korean broadcaster MBC shows police grabbing the man by his arms and legs, dragging him to the van, putting him in and driving away.

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