- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

From combined dispatches
The United States said the 25 North Koreans who burst into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing yesterday should not have to go back to their country.
"We have always felt that North Koreans should not be returned to North Korea because they would face persecution there," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The 25, who had escaped North Korea before only to be forced back by Chinese officials, threatened suicide if they were returned to their famine-struck homeland again, the Tokyo-based Life Funds for North Korean Refugees said in a statement.
Mr. Boucher told a daily briefing that the case was one for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Spanish and Chinese governments to resolve.
"Indeed they are working together to resolve the case. We want to see it proceed according to established procedures that are practiced worldwide and that also appears to be the situation with regard to these people," he added.
The United States considers the North Korean government to be one of the most repressive in the world.
In Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said yesterday that he aimed to find a "humanitarian solution" for the 25 North Koreans who stormed into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing asking for refuge.
Mr. Pique told journalists that talks with China were progressing rapidly.
Diplomats at the Spanish Embassy in Beijing said they were holding talks with the UNHCR and were seeking to provide the 14 North Korean adults and 11 children with refugee status.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was "considering all the possibilities," including transferring the refugee-status seekers to South Korea.
The standoff in Beijing came amid a new threat by North Korea to pull out of a crucial deal with the United States that froze Pyongyang's suspected atomic weapons program and averted near-conflict in the 1990s.
Even before news broke in U.S. newspapers last weekend that Washington was reviewing its nuclear strategy, communist North Korea was smarting because President Bush had labeled it part of an "axis of evil" bent on making weapons of mass destruction.


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