Ikeda to back asylum for N. Korean defector

Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda will depart for Singapore Feb. 14 to attend a foreign ministers’ meeting where he is expected to press China to honor a request by a top North Korean defector who wants to go to Seoul.

Ikeda is attending the meeting in preparation for the next Asia-Europe Meeting summit expected to be held in London in April 1998. The two-day gathering opens as the situation intensifies around the surprise defection of Hwang Jang Yop, a close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Ikeda will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen late Feb. 14 and with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Chong Ha on Feb. 15. Hwang, a member of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, visited the South Korean Embassy in Beijing on Feb. 12 and asked for asylum in Seoul.

North Korean government officials have denied the report, insisting Hwang was kidnapped by South Korea. Hwang was in Beijing following a 12-day visit to Japan that began Jan. 31.