• Kyodo

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A United States Senate hearing may take place next week to discuss the fate of five North Korean asylum seekers seized by Chinese police within a Japanese consulate in China.

“It is very tentative but there is a possibility a hearing will be held next week on this issue,” a Senate committee official said Friday.

If it does go ahead, the session is likely to focus more international attention on the fate of the asylum seekers, as well as on the diplomatic row between Japan and China over incident.

The five North Koreans — a couple, their 2-year-old daughter, the man’s mother and his younger brother — were seized by armed Chinese police officers May 8 at the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

Japan claims the Chinese police violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by entering the consulate premises without permission.

China maintains its police had the permission of the consular officials and that they acted to protect the consular premises from what they perceived as intruders.

Beijing has rejected the Japanese version of the incident. They say Tokyo is making unreasonable demands that could harm China’s international image.

China has said it will verify the identities of the asylum seekers and handle the problem according to its own laws.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan is continuing to negotiate with China.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, who chairs the immigration subcommittee, and five other senators have sent a signed letter to Chinese Ambassador to the United States Yang Jiechi calling for humanitarian treatment of the five asylum seekers, who the senators say are members of the Kim Han Mee family.

“We are writing to make a humanitarian appeal on behalf of the family of five North Korean family members who recently were detained by Chinese authorities after they attempted to seek asylum at the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang, and the three who attempted to seek asylum in the South Korean Embassy in Beijing,” says the letter.

“We appeal to the Government of China to allow some form of humanitarian accommodation for these people,” it says, “and urge you not to contravene the treaty obligations that both of our nations share as prominent members of the international community.

“It is well documented that North Korea’s treatment of its citizens attempting to escape to third countries is severe and frequently fatal,” the letter adds.

Among the senators who signed the letter is George Allen. Allen joined four members of the House International Relations Committee, including Chairman Henry Hyde, on May 10 urging for the North Korean asylum seekers to be treated humanely.

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