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Security tightens in N. Korean defector deadlock

February 18, 1997
Web posted at: 11:31 a.m. EST (1131 GMT)

Latest developments:

BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese police backed by armored personnel carriers tightened security Tuesday outside the South Korean consulate where a North Korean defector sought asylum six days ago.

Officially, however, Beijing was silent about what's going on at the consulate and whether there has been any progress in negotiations among China, North Korea and South Korea over the case of Hwang Jang Yop, the highest ranking official ever to defect to the South.

At a press conference Tuesday, China's foreign ministry spokesman would only repeat what the government has said before -- that China hopes all parties involved can deal with the matter calmly, and do what is necessary to maintain peace and stability in the Korean peninsula.

Kim Jong Il appears to accept defection

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in a speech on government-run radio, hinted Monday that North Korea could be softening its position on Hwang's case. While he did not mention Hwang directly, he said that cowards who wish to leave the country should go ahead and do so.

Kim's speech followed a statement released by the North Korean foreign ministry, which admitted that it was possible Hwang could have defected.

This softening in North Korea's position makes it more likely that Hwang could be able to leave China without the immediate threat of violence by North Korea, observers said.

North Koreans end stakeout of consulate

The behavior of North Koreans in Beijing has changed as well. By Monday afternoon, North Korean embassy men and cars had disappeared from outside the South Korean consulate, where they'd been holding a round-the-clock vigil ever since Hwang entered last Wednesday.

But China took no chances Tuesday, sending at least two armored personnel carriers to reinforce approaches to Seoul's consulate.

Meanwhile, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung called for "extraordinary alertness" and military readiness against North Korea, telling parliament that Pyongyang had increasingly deployed offensive forces near the border with the South, despite an economic crisis and chronic food shortages.

A military spokesman said Lee was referring to the North's defense build-up in recent years and no additional troops had been deployed at the tense border in the past week.

Correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon and Reuters contributed to this report.


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