44 North Koreans Storm Canadian Embassy in Beijing

2004-09-29
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The Canadian Embassy in Beijing was stormed on Sept. 29 by more than 40 suspected North Korean refugees in an apparent asylum bid.

HONG KONG — ; Forty-four suspected North Korean men, women, and children scaled walls at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing in an apparent bid for asylum, some dressed as construction workers to avoid alarming security guards.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers from reclusive North Korea have broken into foreign embassies and consulates in China since 2002, hoping to secure passage to wealthier South Korea. This was one of the largest such groups to have made such an attempt.

"We are just in the process of talking to them to determine who they are and what they expect of us."

"There are 44 people in all, including women and children, and adults, male and female," Canadian Ambassador Joseph Caron told reporters. "We are just in the process of talking to them to determine who they are and what they expect of us."

Caron said some of the people appeared to be North Korean but whether all of them were was unclear. He added that "a few" were injured as they entered the compound

Hard hats and shoes

A truck was seen entering the compound and about 10 mattresses unloaded before the ambassador came out. Several yellow hard hats and some shoes were strewn on the ground near makeshift, iron ladders by the fence that they scaled to enter the compound. The fence stands about three meters (about 10 feet) tall.

Earlier this month, 29 asylum-seekers broke into the compound of Japan's Embassy-run school and have been slowly and quietly spirited out of the country.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan subsequently accused rights groups of aiding helping refugees break into foreign missions. "Sometimes, people who entered China illegally are incited by these so-called human rights groups to cause trouble, to barge into the embassies and to make a big deal," he said. "We have long opposed this type of behavior."

Airlift in July

In July, 468 North Korean refugees who had been holed up in Vietnam were airlifted to South Korea in the biggest mass defection since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Two smaller groups of North Korean asylum-seekers have entered the Canadian embassy in Beijing previously.

Activists estimate that possibly as many as 100,000 North Korean refugees are camped out or in hiding, mostly in China and increasingly in Southeast Asia, after fleeing poverty and repression in the North.

Despite an agreement with Pyongyang to repatriate North Koreans who enter China illegally, Beijing has let most of those who have entered foreign diplomatic missions travel to South Korea via a third country.--RFA, AFP, and Reuters

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