- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

BEIJING In the biggest one-day exodus of asylum-seekers from China, 36 persons holed up in a German school and the South Korean Embassy left Beijing yesterday.

A South Korean official said at least two dozen more North Koreans were awaiting permission to leave. It was the first time the embassy had disclosed that it was housing such a large number of asylum-seekers.

Officials said the latest groups to leave were headed for South Korea by way of the Philippines and another unidentified country.

A group of 21 reached Manila late yesterday, said Miguel Hinlo, assistant general manager for security at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. They later boarded a flight to the Seoul, airport officials said.

The North Koreans, including at least three children and 11 women, looked rested and wore casual clothes. They bowed their heads or covered their faces as they filed past photographers and television cameramen in Manila's airport.

Fifteen other North Koreans who scaled a wall last week to enter a compound housing a German-run school also left China, a German Embassy spokesman said. He wouldn't say where they were going.

China's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on either group.

Previous asylum-seekers have traveled to Seoul via the Philippines or Singapore. Such detours are meant to mollify Beijing's ally, North Korea, by avoiding direct travel to the rival, capitalist South.

Yesterday's was the biggest one-day exodus in a series of asylum bids in China by North Koreans fleeing famine and repression. At least 70 other North Koreans have been allowed to leave for the South since March after seeking asylum in foreign offices in China.

The string of asylum bids began March 23, when 25 North Koreans rushed past Chinese guards and into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing.

Since then, North Koreans by ones and twos and in small groups have climbed over walls or slipped past guards to enter embassies and consulates belonging to a half-dozen other countries.

China has tried to discourage asylum bids by stringing barbed wire around diplomatic offices and posting more armed guards.

The entry into the German compound, which also is the site of a German government apartment building, was a new strategy for asylum-seekers.

They previously had sought refuge in diplomatic properties, which by international treaty are considered foreign territory that Chinese police may not enter without permission.

The school is affiliated with the German Embassy but isn't diplomatic territory. BUT, Chinese police didn't try to bring out the Koreans.

China is obligated by treaty to send home fleeing North Koreans. But it has let them leave for the South in cases that become public, perhaps for fear of a foreign outcry.


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