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Fate of NK asylum seekers unclear

From Beijing Producer Steven Jiang

A group of North Korean asylum seekers climb over the wall of a German government-run school in Beijing in this Sept. 3, 2002 file photo.
A group of North Korean asylum seekers climb over the wall of a German government-run school in Beijing in this Sept. 3, 2002 file photo.

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The fate of eight North Korean asylum seekers inside the German embassy in Beijing remains unclear with Chinese and German officials debating the issue, an embassy spokeswoman says.

"We have been in touch with Chinese authorities and try to solve this issue quickly," she said.

The asylum seekers entered a German compound that houses a school and diplomatic apartments Monday afternoon, eyewitnesses told CNN.

The compound is a few minutes drive away from the embassy. The spokeswomen declined to say when and how the North Koreans were moved.

The incident occurred as officials from North Korea, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia arrived in the Chinese capital to seek a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis in the latest six-nation talks, scheduled to start Wednesday. (Full story)

An eyewitness, who is a staff member in the compound and spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN that the eight people climbed over the wall into the compound shortly before 5 p.m. Monday (0900 GMT) and ran towards the apartment building.

The German school is closed this week, with classes scheduled to resume March 1. It was the target of a series of asylum bids by North Korean refugees about 18 months ago.

China beefed up security around diplomatic establishments to deter asylum seekers since a group of North Korean refugees stormed into the Spanish embassy in March 2002.

The eyewitness said some of the people were bleeding, apparently injured while climbing the wall with spiked fences on the top.

"They had knives and said they had rat poisons with them. They threatened to kill themselves if any Chinese move close to them, asked to speak with only Germans," the eyewitness said.

Thousands of North Koreans fleeing famine and repression in their isolated Stalinist homeland live in hiding in China.

Hundreds have been allowed to leave for South Korea after seeking refuge in embassies and other foreign offices in China in a wave of asylum bids that began in June 2001.

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