Five North Korean asylum seekers leave China


Five of the 29 North Korean defectors who sought asylum in a Japanese school in Beijing on Sept. 1 left China on Friday for a third country, according to Japanese Embassy officials.

While the officials did not specify the destination, a source close to the South Korean Embassy said the four women and one man would end their journey in South Korea as early as Saturday through the third country, believed to be the Philippines.

China allowed the five, who have health problems, to leave the country Friday afternoon on humanitarian grounds, according to the embassy officials.

The 11 men, 15 women and three children have been staying at the Japanese Embassy, after being moved from the school. They entered the school compound through a hole cut in the wire fence surrounding the grounds.

Many North Koreans who have fled to China have sought refuge inside foreign missions or schools in Beijing in the hope of being sent to other countries. China often sends the asylum seekers back to North Korea if they are apprehended before reaching a foreign sanctuary.

This latest development at the Japanese Embassy follows the arrival of seven North Korean asylum seekers in South Korea via a third country from Cambodia on Thursday.

A Cambodian official said earlier in the week that the North Korean defectors had come to Cambodia through China and Vietnam.

Driven by a shortage of food in North Korea, the number of people who have sought asylum in South Korea has shot up since the mid-1990s. The number, which totaled about 580 in 2001, reached roughly 1,280 in 2003.