- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

BEIJING Twenty-four North Korean asylum seekers left South Korean diplomatic compounds in China and arrived in South Korea today, ending a monthlong diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Seoul.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the group flew out of the country yesterday but would not say where they were headed.
Airport police in Seoul said the group of two dozen North Koreans arrived today on a flight from Bangkok.
Two other North Koreans holed up in the Canadian Embassy since June 8 also left China yesterday, embassy spokeswoman Jennifer May said. Police in Seoul said a flight from Singapore arrived today with the two North Korean men aboard. Government officials took them away for debriefing.
Shin Jung-seung, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, had said the North Koreans would fly to a third country before traveling on to South Korea. Previous North Korean asylum seekers have flown to the Philippines before continuing on to South Korea.
Mr. Shin said the asylum seekers included 21 North Koreans inside the embassy's visa office and two others who entered the main embassy compound several blocks away. A North Korean man who was dragged out of the visa office on June 13 by Chinese guards also would be allowed to leave, Mr. Shin said.
The standoff soured the usually friendly relations between Seoul and Beijing and placed China in the difficult position of trying to show sensitivity to international opinion while discouraging future asylum bids.
China has a treaty with its North Korean ally requiring it to return refugees. However, it has not done so in public cases, perhaps for fear of provoking a backlash abroad.
China had demanded the asylum seekers be handed over and refused to publicly accept Seoul's precondition that it promise not to return them to North Korea, where they would face almost certain imprisonment and torture. South Korea faces domestic political pressure over the issue.
Sentiments between the sides worsened after Chinese guards removed the North Korean man and police kicked and punched South Korean diplomats who tried to intervene.
Seoul has accused China of violating international law because such offices are considered foreign territory that Chinese guards are not supposed to enter without permission. South Korea demanded the man's return and an apology.


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