BEIJING – Two people believed to be North Korean asylum-seekers managed to enter the visa-application area of the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang, northeastern China, on Wednesday but were apprehended by trespassing Chinese authorities and dragged out.
The two were among a group of five asylum-seekers who tried to enter the compound. The other three were detained by Chinese authorities outside of the consulate gate.
Meanwhile, two other North Korean asylum-seekers successfully entered the nearby U.S. Consulate in the capital of Liaoning Province.
According to initial reports, officials at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing said two of the five entered the visa-application area at around 2 p.m. but were detained by armed Chinese police officers who had followed them into the visa-application area without permission. The report went on to say officers removed the two asylum-seekers without consulate staff noticing.
Later reports quoted embassy officials as saying that consulate general staff did notice the Chinese officers and asked them not to take the asylum-seekers but were ignored.
Kunio Takahashi, a minister at the embassy, visited the Chinese Foreign Ministry later in the day to protest the Chinese authorities’ violation of the extraterritorial status of the consulate general, as stipulated in the Vienna Convention.
Takahashi also demanded that the detained people be handed over to the Japanese Embassy.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry official who met Takahashi said the protest will be conveyed to a senior official. The official also said Chinese security authorities are confirming the identities of the detainees.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later instructed the Foreign Ministry to look into the incident in a careful and calm manner.
According to a statement issued by a Seoul-based support group for North Koreans, the group that rushed the Japanese consulate were relatives of former refugee Jang Gil-Su.
Last year, teenager Jang led his family into the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing. They were eventually allowed to go to South Korea.
The Seoul group said the North Koreans who attempted to enter the consulates Wednesday included a 2-year-old baby, the baby’s parents, uncle and grandmother as well as Jang’s grandfather.
Since Jang’s successful bid to win asylum last year, several groups of North Koreans have entered a number of embassies in Beijing to get to the South.
While a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing confirmed only that two “intruders” had scaled the wall of the U.S. Consulate General in Shenyang without specifying their nationalities, witnesses reported seeing two people they knew to be North Koreans successfully enter the consular grounds.
The incidents mark the first known attempt by North Koreans to seek asylum at diplomatic establishments outside Beijing.
In March, 25 North Korean asylum seekers barged into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing and were later allowed to fly out of the country bound for South Korea.
Human rights activists who helped organize that successful asylum bid said they hoped a growing flood of North Koreans fleeing the country would lead eventually to the collapse of North Korea’s Stalinist regime.
Whether the North Koreans will be forcibly repatriated — the standard practice of Chinese authorities when they come across fleeing North Koreans — is uncertain.
Some of the countless North Koreans living in secrecy in northern China after crossing the porous border between the two countries have complained they would face torture or even execution if sent back.
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