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Suspected N Koreans arrive in Japan on boat-Kyodo

By Staff
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Google Oneindia News

TOKYO, June 2 (Reuters) Japanese police are questioning four people who arrived at a northern port today on a boat of unknown origin, suspecting that they may be North Koreans seeking asylum, Kyodo news agency said.

If they are refugees, it would be the first time that North Koreans have fled to Japan and sought asylum directly.

''The matter is up to the police and immigration authorities at the moment and not at a stage where we can react,'' a government official told Reuters.

Kyodo said the three men and a woman appeared to be a family, spoke Korean and were telling authorities that they had come from North Korea.

A local official said a small black wooden boat, resembling a fishing boat, had entered Fukaura port facing the Sea of Japan in Aomori prefecture, 570 km north of Tokyo.

NHK television said the boat was about 5 metres long, equipped with a modified engine and also carrying a spare engine.

Japan, which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, has barred entry to ships from the North since Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006.

Tokyo is also feuding with the secretive communist state over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by Pyongyang's agents to help train spies in Japanese language and culture.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed not to provide funds for a multilateral aid-for-arms deal clinched in February, by which Pyongyang promised to scrap its nuclear arms programme in return for energy aid, until the abduction issue has been resolved.

Japanese abductees who were repatriated in 2002 have said they were kidnapped by agents and taken to the North on speed boats that left from the Japanese coast on the Sea of Japan.

In December 2001, a suspected North Korean spy ship sank in the East China Sea after a high-speed chase and an exchange of fire with Japan's coastguard. Tokyo believes the vessel was used for spying or drug smuggling.

North Korean defectors in the past have fled to Japanese institutions in China, but all sought asylum in third countries.

Human rights groups have long criticised Japan for granting refugee status to only a limited number of people, and for the lack of transparency in how they are chosen.

A Japanese newspaper reported in January that the government had estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 people would arrive from North Korea if a crisis hit the Korean Peninsula. But the study said the refugees were likely to arrive in southern Japan.

REUTERS SZ PM1147

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