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Two Men Enter Embassy in Beijing

August 14, 2002

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BEIJING (AP) _ Two brothers who say they are North Korean have entered the Albanian Embassy in Beijing and asked to go to South Korea, the Albanian ambassador said Wednesday.

The pair scaled the embassy fence at about 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, said Ambassador Kujtim Xhani.

``They were peaceful. They said they wanted to live in a free world,″ Xhani said. He said neither carried any documentation to prove their citizenship.

If the men are confirmed to be North Korean, the bid would bring to at least 30 the number of people from the isolated communist dictatorship who have entered foreign diplomatic offices seeking passage to the South since the start of June.

Previous asylum-seekers have said they were fleeing hunger or political repression.

Xhani said the latest pair, who gave their ages as 22 and 26, said they had lived in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin for the past four years and worked as farmers. Both were in good health, he said.

The Albanian Embassy has informed both the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the South Korean Embassy and was negotiating the next step, Xhani said.

Neither Chinese nor South Korean officials would comment Wednesday.

The stream of asylum bids by North Koreans at foreign embassies and consulates in China began in March, when a group entered the Spanish Embassy in Beijing and were later allowed to leave for the South.

The situation poses a delicate diplomatic problem for China, the North’s only major ally.

Beijing is required by treaty to send home asylum-seekers. But Chinese authorities have not followed that treaty in cases that have become public, possibly for fear of provoking an outcry abroad. Defectors who are returned to North Korea reportedly face imprisonment and torture.

In June, Beijing allowed a group of 25 North Koreans who had entered the South Korean and Canadian embassies to leave for Seoul. Three more who entered the South’s embassy last month also were allowed to leave.

Chinese authorities have increased security around foreign diplomatic offices in an attempt to deter asylum bids, setting up barbed wire and posting armed guards.

Update hourly