FUJIAN'S Governor has rejected allegations that illegal immigrants returned to his province after a failed attempt to enter the United States had been persecuted. Speaking in Beijing yesterday, Mr Jia Qinglin said the 525 illegals from the human cargo smuggling ship East Wood had been ''warmly greeted'' and allowed to go back to their families. The US Coastguard intercepted the East Wood after receiving bogus calls of a hijacking on February 5. When they found its holds full of the would-be illegal immigrants they escorted it to the Marshall Islands. The boat people were later sent back to China on flights arranged by the International Organisation for Migration. Mr Jia said: ''It's impossible that they would be punished. I had given instructions before leaving for Beijing that the returnees should be resettled in a proper way.'' He said, however, that the returnees would be ''educated'' and asked not to try to leave the country illegally. The news comes as US diplomats in Guangzhou began investigating reports that a quarter of the migrants had been sent to a detention centre since their return. US Consulate officials in Hongkong yesterday refused to speculate whether such a move represented a breach of agreements with China before the migrants were flown home from the Marshall Islands two weeks ago. The situation is further complicated by the fact that nothing was signed following negotiations in Beijing and Washington. ''The news was certainly surprising, and it certainly could be a breach of prior agreements, but it is going to have to be fully investigated before any conclusions are reached,''a spokesman said. Mr Jia, who is attending the National People's Congress, said the returnees would be encouraged to apply to emigrate through the legal channels. He said the provincial government has always been against the unlawful exit of people. ''We have encouraged through publicity people who want to leave the country to apply through the normal ways such as the overseas employment agencies,'' he said. Mr Jia admitted that the problem of illegal immigrants leaving the province had been rampant in the past year. But following stern measures, there have been fewer illegal emigrants recently, he said. Mr Jia said coastal surveillance had been stepped up and education work among fishermen in the coastal area had also been strengthened.