China in the front line of exodus from North Korea

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The Independent Online

A North Korean asylum-seeker who scaled the wall of a US consulate in north-east China became the latest escapee yesterday in a growing exodus from the world's most repressive state.

A North Korean asylum-seeker who scaled the wall of a US consulate in north-east China became the latest escapee yesterday in a growing exodus from the world's most repressive state.

He joined two others who are seeking asylum at the consulate in Shenyang.

Washington will press Beijing to allow all three to follow at least 28 North Koreans who have escaped to foreign embassies in China during the past two months, and subsequently secured passage to South Korea.

Fighting a tide of up to 300,000 North Koreans who in recent years have fled the poverty, hunger and repression of their Stalinist homeland, Beijing is also taking tougher measures.

On Wednesday, two North Koreans reached the visa section of the Japanese consulate in Shenyang. Outside, three relatives, including a two-year old girl, had been detained. The Chinese police then entered the consulate to retrieve the other two.

The Japanese Foreign Minister protested over China's intrusion into its diplomatic territory as a violation of the Vienna Treaty. But a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry cited the same convention to defend Beijing's efforts "to protect consulate compounds from intrusions and damage".

He also cited "the greater context of the global war on terrorism," a battle Beijing has used to deflect criticism of its fight against Muslim separatists in China's north-west.

On its north-eastern border, China is trying to intercept refugees who risk life and liberty to cross the Yalu river for an underground existence in China. Some work in ethnic Korean regions, others make the long overland trek to Bangkok.

While Beijing tries to honour its treaty with Pyongyang to return all escapees, it also covets a better international image. North Koreans who are deported home face long jail terms or execution, according to Korean aid groups.

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