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Chinese agents raid press briefing on North Korean refugees
Michael A. Lev, Chicago Tribune

BEIJING - (KRT) - Chinese security agents broke up a news conference by a group of four visiting South Korean legislators Wednesday, pushing some reporters out of a hotel conference room and attempting to forcibly evict the four lawmakers, who wanted to talk about the plight of North Korean refugees in China.

The agents, who apparently did not identify themselves but were believed to be members of the state security apparatus, raided the room, declaring, "Everyone out, you can't do this," according to several accounts. They turned off the lights and cut the microphones, roughly ejected some of the 40 foreign reporters in attendance and then locked the doors, shutting other reporters and the legislators inside.

The incident lasted at least 40 minutes, but a standoff with the legislators apparently went on for hours and led to an immediate protest by the South Korean government and officials of the opposition Grand National Party, whose representatives were trying to meet reporters.

"It is unthinkable that 13 Chinese men who refused to identify themselves stormed into a press conference by lawmakers representing a country with diplomatic ties with China," GNP spokeswoman Chon Yu Ok said, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. "We regret this unthinkable incident happened. The Chinese government will have to give a clear explanation on this."

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lee Kyu Hyung said: "We think it is regretful that this kind of incident has happened. As soon as we confirm what exactly has happened, we will take necessary measures."

The four legislators wanted to talk to reporters about a four-day fact-finding mission to China on the issue of North Korean refugees, thousands of whom have sneaked across the frontier into China in desperate attempts to eventually obtain asylum in South Korea.

Many of the North Koreans have found ways to barge into foreign embassies, but China's government does not recognize the asylum-seekers as political refugees and tries to catch them and forcibly return them to North Korea. The standoffs at embassies, where the North Koreans routinely must wait weeks or months before being allowed to quietly leave for South Korea, have embarrassed the Chinese government because of the inability of Chinese security guards to prevent them from gaining entrance. China fears that a sudden rush of North Koreans over the border could destabilize North Korea.

Yonhap said the legislators met with senior Chinese officials, including Hu Guangbao, vice chairman of the National People's Congress, and asked the government to respect the North Koreans' desire to flee to South Korea. The group then tried to brief reporters on their trip.
"I cannot believe the Chinese government is treating us this way today," Kim Moon Soo, a leader of the South Korean group was quoted as saying after the run-in. "We have a diplomatic right to be here. Our visit is legal."

Foreign officials and activists often hold news conferences with foreign correspondents in Beijing at which sensitive issues are discussed. Usually, they are conducted without interference, but occasionally government agents will try to stop them. In recent years, agents have broken up press meetings on the issues of the banned Falun Gong spiritual [group] and the government cover-up of thousands of Chinese farmers who contracted HIV by selling blood.

Foreign political activists have raised questions of whether China's government will be able to deal with human-rights criticisms in the run-up to Beijing holding the 2008 Summer Olympics.

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