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China to Free Two Asylum Seekers

August 16, 2002

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BEIJING (AP) _ Two men who say they are North Koreans and sought asylum at the Albanian Embassy in Beijing will be allowed to leave China, the Albanian ambassador said Friday.

The Chinese government on Thursday informed the embassy that the men, who did not carry any documentation to prove their citizenship, will be allowed to leave the country after security checks, Ambassador Kujtim Xhani said.

``First of all, they must pass a verification process to confirm that they are North Koreans and that they did not commit crimes in China,″ Xhani said.

The men, who say they are brothers, had lived in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin for the past four years and worked as farmers, Xhani has said. They gave their ages as 22 and 26.

The two men scaled the embassy fence on Tuesday, saying they wanted to go to South Korea.

It was not immediately clear where they would go or when they would leave.

``We hope it’s as soon as possible,″ Xhani said.

In a statement Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was handling the case ``in accordance with principles of international law, domestic law and humanitarianism.″

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

The situation poses a delicate diplomatic problem for China _ the North’s only major ally _ which is required by treaty to send home asylum seekers from North Korea.

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.

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.

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.

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

Update hourly