Helping Hands Korea
(freeing North Korean refugees)
(freeing North Korean refugees)
Liberty in North Korea blog
Korea Freedom Coalition
Free North Korea Radio
(www.fnkradio.com in Korean)
c/o Defense Forum Foundation
Associated Press: "North Korea sentences American to 15 years' labor"
By Sam Kim
Seoul, South Korea (AP) — A Korean American detained for
six months in North Korea has been
sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the
state, the North's media said Thursday —
a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any
Kenneth Bae, a Washington state man described by friends as a
devout Christian and a tour operator,
is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others
eventually were deported
or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by
including former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
5/17/12 Wall Street Journal: "North Korea's Gulag; New evidence reveals a vast, cruel network
of prison camps."
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak deserves praise for one accomplishment above
all others: He has put human rights in North Korea on the world's agenda. This certainly has hit
a nerve in Pyongyang. The late Kim Jong Il cut off talks with the South, and now Kim Jong Eun
has embarked on a campaign of abuse against President Lee that is vile even by that regime's
3/26/12 CNN: "In North Korea, a brutal choice,"
by Madison Park, CNN
Washington, D.C. (CNN) -- During a sleepless night, Song Ee Han agonized over a decision:
Was she willing to leave her youngest child behind while she and her daughters escaped North Korea?
12/22/11: Los Angeles Times: "North Korean defector says Kim Jong Il stole her life"
Seoul –- At age 74, Kim Young-soon has every reason to dance on Kim Jong Il’s grave.
The North Korean dictator destroyed her life, and killed her family. For years, she wanted
nothing but revenge; not just to see him dead, but to watch him suffer.
10/18/11 Christian Science Monitor: "Tim Peters provides Helping Hands to North Korean defectors;
Christian missionary Tim Peters sends aid to impoverished North Korea while working to help
defectors come to the South."
7/9/09 CNN: "Sister hears from journalist held in N. Korea,"
After weeks of silence, the sister of one of the two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea finally got a phone call.
Supporters rally for U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling on June 4 in Seoul, South Korea.
Supporters rally for U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling on June 4 in Seoul, South Korea.
"It was only the first time I had heard her voice in weeks. ... I was so relieved but I feel so helpless," Lisa Ling, a CNN contributor, told affiliate KOVR in an interview Wednesday. "Because as an older sister, a best friend, a self-professed 'doer,' it's just difficult to know I cannot do anything to bring her home."
Ling said she spoke to her sister, Laura Ling, over the phone Tuesday night. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced in June to 12 years in prison on charges of illegally entering the country to conduct a smear campaign.
Lisa Ling is hoping the arrests will push the United States and the reclusive communist nation to engage in diplomatic talks.
"I know that our government has been working behind the scenes very hard trying to bring the girls back home," she said. But she added, "Our countries don't talk, and perhaps this could be a reason."
She said her sister "was very specific about the message that she was communicating, and she said, 'Look, we violated North Korean law and we need our government to help us. We are sorry about everything that has happened, but we need diplomacy.' "
Ling said that without being able to look at her sister, it was difficult to tell how she was doing. She described the past few weeks as being engulfed in a "terrifying and deafening" silence.
The two detainees -- who are reporters for California-based Current TV, a media venture of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore -- were arrested while reporting on the border between North Korea and China.
The North's state media released a "detailed report" last month, saying that Ling and Lee entered the country illegally to record material for a "smear campaign" against the reclusive communist state.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the United States is seeking the immediate release of the two journalists on humanitarian grounds.
6/22/09 New York Times: "Laura Ling, Euna Lee and North Korea,"
By Nicholas Kristof
Now that my colleague David Rohde has escaped from his Taliban kidnappers, the American journalists who remain imprisoned are Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are the two journalists for Current TV who were arrested on March 17 for crossing illegally from China into North Korea at the Tumen River.
The details of the arrests remain unclear; they have “confessed,” but that is meaningless — who wouldn’t in such circumstances? There have been some suggestions that they wandered accidentally across the border, but that’s not easy to do. I’ve reported three times in that same area along the Tumen, interviewing North Koreans on the Chinese side of the border, and it’s always clear where the border is. That said, people often do cross over deliberately, just inside the border, and there are usually no consequences at all. In 1997, a Times correspondent based in China, Seth Faison, stepped across stones in the Yalu River (a different part of the border with China) to reach a North Korean island. He wrote:
”Have any cigarettes?” asked the head of North Korea’s five-man border guard on Lee Island, a finger of land in the Yalu River dividing North Korea from China. The officer, who gave his name as Park, lay idly on a shady patch of sand a few dozen yards from the border. He did not get up to greet a pair of visitors who stepped on stones to cross a narrow bend in the river from China, and allowed them onto the island because they accompanied a Chinese trader who had given him a pack of Chinese cigarettes the day before, worth 12 cents.
Another possibility, which I incline to, is that Ling and Lee may have been sold to North Korea by a local guide. If the guide said that it was safe to cross, or that they were still on Chinese territory, they would have believed him. Moreover, by some accounts they were working on a story about human trafficking — there’s a good deal of trafficking of North Korean women and girls into China, into prostitution and to be wives of peasants — and the traffickers could well have tricked them in exchange for a reward from North Korea. A couple of years ago, I set up an interview with a trafficker in that border area, but then backed out when he demanded money; the traffickers may realize that the people to demand money from aren’t the journalists but the North Korean officials. And at a time of crisis, when it is undergoing a leadership transition and a confrontation with the West, North Korea would probably pay well for a few extra bargaining chips in the form of American journalists.
Ling and Lee were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp. The conditions in those camps are unbelievably wretched, according to survivors and guards who have escaped (the book “Aquariums of Pyongyang” offers an window into them). But since Ling and Lee will eventually be released, the authorities will treat them more gingerly; perhaps they will be kept in a guest house. North Korea would lose face if they died or turned out to be starving, and that will help them immeasurably. In both my visits inside North Korea, the government has worked so hard to keep foreigners from seeing the real North Korea that I just can’t believe that it would allow Lee and Ling to see anything real even in the context of their punishment.
My hunch is that North Korea will use them for a time as a propaganda victory and then release them to a high-ranking visitor — Al Gore, Bill Richardson or someone else. Gore invested in Current TV, and Richardson has gone to North Korea before to extricate Americans and has a decent relationship with officials there. The problem is that a North Korean freighter is now steaming on the high seas, apparently to Burma, and reputedly carrying weapons. The U.S. should stop it and search it or turn it back, since Burma obviously won’t, but that could easily lead to bullets flying — either at sea or in an incident at the DMZ, or both. If there is such an incident, North Korea may be less likely to release Ling and Lee for the time being.
Then there’s the transition. In the past, North Korean provocations have mostly been about us — they’ve been intended to get our attention, in hopes of working out some kind of a deal. But this time, the provocations may be more about internal North Korean power dynamics, meant to facilitate the rise of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, as the chosen heir. If this is all related to internal politics, then there’s not much we can
Ambassador Steve Bosworth, the administration’s envoy for North Korea, reportedly has been blocked by North Korea from visiting; that’s a bad sign that this is all about them, not us.
Incidentally, for those who want to learn more about how North Korea ticks, there have been many good books lately. Perhaps the best is Bradley Martin’s exhaustive “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader.” And the Inspector O novels, set in Pyongyang and written by an American intelligence expert on North Korea (who uses the pseudonym James Church), beautifully capture the attitudes of the North Korean officials I’ve met.
And for Ling and Lee, if by some chance this blog post reaches you, courage! We are with you in spirit, and some day this will end. Then you’ll be back with your loved ones, celebrating, like David Rohde. You will come home!
Post: “N. Korean Women Who Flee to
Suffer in Stateless Limbo Many Are Sold Into Marriage,”
-- For North Korean women who run off to
, rules are rigged on both sides of the border.
regards them as criminals for leaving.
refuses to recognize them as refugees, sending many back to face interrogation,
hard labor and sometimes torture. Others stay on in stateless limbo, sold by
brokers to Chinese men in need of fertile women and live-in labor.
, so far, has refused to allow defectors, all of
whom face criminal charges if they are sent back to
, to make a claim for asylum with representatives from the Office of the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees. Defectors who approach the UNHCR office in
are sometimes arrested. The agency is barred from the areas where there are
In its most recent human rights report, the State Department
said that in the run-up to last year's Olympics,
increased its efforts to find and deport North Korean refugees, including women
who had been victims of trafficking.
news10.net: “Vigil Held for Journalist Detained in
by Nicole Chavez
- A vigil was held Tuesday night at Del Campo
High School for detained journalist Laura Ling and her colleague Euna
Lee. Ling is a 1994 alumnus of the school.
Ling and Lee are under arrest in
facing charges including espionage after they were arrested while covering a
story about North Korean refugees near the North Korean and
border. The journalists are reporters for San Francisco-based Current-TV.
"I fear for her safety," said Stephanie
Tomasegovich, a long-time friend of Ling's. "Are they feeding her? Are
they hurting her?" she questioned.
More than one hundred members of the community, friends and
former teachers of Ling held candles and told stories of Ling's tenacity and
passion for journalism. "I reflected on the years she spent on the
newspaper staff, even then trying to tell the stories she felt needed to be
told," said one of her former teachers.
Vigil organizers said they had hoped the gathering would
keep Ling and Lee's story front and center until the two are released. If
convicted on the espionage charge, however, the women could face at least five
years in prison.
Laura Ling is the sister of TV personality and fellow
native Lisa Ling. Some of Ling's family members attended Tuesday's vigil. They
said they couldn't go into detail regarding Ling's ordeal due to the sensitive
nature of the case, but did want to express thanks for the community's
support and prayers.
Reuters: “North Korean children exploited by state,”
By Jon Herskovitz
Seoul (Reuters) – North Korea forcibly mobilizes its
as cheap labor, diverts their food aid and throws minors into detention centers
because their parents have run afoul of the law, human rights groups said in a
The North's failing school system has led to an increase in
drop-outs and illiteracy in the impoverished state, according to the report,
obtained on Monday, from the Seoul-based Citizen's
for North Korean Human Rights and The Asia Center for Human Rights.
"Child labor and economic exploitation have become
widely spread and a customary practice accompanying the worsening economic
hardship of the country," said their "Situation Report on the Rights
of the Child in the DPRK (
Children in the poorest parts of the destitute state face the
greatest difficulty in obtaining an education. The few textbooks available in
their schools are usually works celebrating the North's communist party and
leaders, it said.
Children are often sent out to work at farms and factories or
to scrounge for materials such as tin and wood that can be used by the state's
powerful military or sold by local authorities, said the report, based on
interviews with about 50 defectors.
"Consequently, it seems illiteracy rates have increased
and the overall level of academic achievement in North Korean youth has
decreased in most areas except for Pyongyang and a handful of other areas,"
International aid agencies who try to feed the neediest
people in the country of about 23 million have placed numerous checks to make
sure their food reaches its intended destinations, but the report said children
can still easily miss out.
It said teachers in poor provinces, who are supposed to help
distribute the food, instead sell it to students or merchants and that part of
the aid is also diverted to children of the privileged class in the capital of
and the military.
Those who remain in school were forced into two years of
quasi-military service from the age of 14 in the "Red Young Guards"
that takes them away from studies for several months.
, European Union and others have criticized
for having one of the worst human rights records on the planet, saying the
reclusive state uses guilt by association to imprison relatives of those the
North sends to its vast network of political prisons.
The report said the children of those imprisoned are forcibly
put in custody and sent to facilities where they are "deprived of a basic
education, forced to child labor and restricted of freedom."
The report noted some improvements in the condition of
children, such as a
cutting down on its use of torture of minors suspected of criminal offenses and
easing penalties on children caught trying to escape the state.
The North has also increased its childhood vaccinations.
7/1/08 Wall Street Journal: “North Korea's Trail of Kidnapping and Terror,”
by Melanie Kirkpatrick
On Nov. 29, 1987, a bomb exploded on Korean Air Lines Flight
858 off the coast of
. One hundred fifteen people died. The bomb had been planted by agents of the
North Korean government, which hoped the attack would disrupt preparations for
the Summer Olympics in
. The mastermind of the operation was Kim Jong Il, son of Great Leader Kim Il
Sung and then-chief of national security.
This is the event that propelled
list of state sponsors of terror, a designation that took place on Jan. 20,
1988. Since then, Kim Jong Il has gone on to succeed his father as absolute
ruler of his country. Under his leadership,
has built several nuclear weapons, transferred nuclear technology to
and missile technology to
currency, and laundered U.N. funds.
Yet last week President Bush announced his intention to begin
the process of taking
off the list of state sponsors of terror. It's a coup for
, which can now lay claim to the mantle of being of a higher moral order than
, its former companions on the list.
In addition to the KAL 858 bombing,
's terror record includes kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s
for the purpose of forcing them to train North Korean spies to pass as Japanese
repatriated five abductees a few years ago and was proved to have lied about
the death of the most famous one, Megumi Yokota, a 13-year-old girl who was
kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977. There are 12 unaccounted-for
's official list of abductees, but
believes the true count may be in the hundreds.
too, has hundreds of missing citizens –
either kidnapped by the North or captured during the 1950-53 Korea War. Kim Jong
Il, a movie buff, famously abducted a South Korean actress and her director
husband. (They eventually escaped.) There currently are 485 people on
's list of abductees and more than 500 POWs still missing. The South Korean
press reported last month that a 78-year-old Korean War POW escaped to China and
is now waiting in a third country for repatriation to the South.
The State Department's most recent report on terror-
sponsoring nations also notes that
continues to give sanctuary to four members of the Japanese Red Army who
participated in the 1970 hijacking of a domestic Japan Airlines flight. With the
has been seeking their return for decades, to no avail.
The details of the bombing of Flight 858 are known thanks to
the confession of one of the conspirators, a young woman named Kim Hyun-hee. Ms.
Kim and her co-conspirator traveled on false Japanese passports, posing as
father and daughter. They boarded the plane in
and deposited their bomb in an overhead compartment before deplaning in
Police caught up with the bombers in
, where Ms. Kim was arrested before she was able to kill herself by biting down
on a cyanide capsule hidden in a Marlboro cigarette. (Her companion was
successful in his suicide attempt.) She was convicted by a South Korean court in
1989 and sentenced to death, but then pardoned by the government, which said she
was a victim of North Korean indoctrination.
has never accepted responsibility for, much less apologized for, the bombing.
Contrast this tale of unaccountability with that of another
airplane bombing –
that of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of
in 1988. The terrorists responsible were from
, under the control of Moammar Gadhafi. In 2003, Gadhafi agreed to give up his
nuclear and chemical weapons programs in return for an end to his country's
accepted responsibility for the bombing, agreed to pay the families of each of
the 270 victims a sum of up to $10 million, and turned over two intelligence
officials for trial by a Scottish court near
In 2006 – after
had fulfilled its promises –
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the
would remove the country from the
list of state sponsors of terror. She called
an "important model" for resolving the dispute with
. If only.
Ms. Kirkpatrick is a deputy editor of the Journal's editorial
6/28/08 Wall Street Journal: “
's Tragedy as Movie Drama,”
by Melanie Kirkpatrick
Call it a "Schindler's List" for
. The difference is that the Steven Spielberg film debuted nearly 50 years after
the Holocaust had ended. "Crossing," which premieres today south of
the DMZ in
, depicts a tragedy that is still going on -- a tragedy that despite its massive
scale rarely captures the world's attention.
The plot of "Crossing" is based on the experiences
of those whom
calls "defectors" but are more properly deemed refugees or escapees.
These are the men, women and children who defy
's law against leaving the country and cross the border into
, in search of food, livelihoods and -- relative to what they have at home --
, the women and girls are often sold as "brides" to Chinese-Korean men
or pressed into service in brothels. The men typically end up hiding in forests
or working at logging camps.
Human-rights organizations estimate that there are tens of
thousands of North Korean refugees in
, which refuses to let the United Nations help them. The lucky few make their
to a neighboring country and then, usually, to
. The unluckiest escapees are captured by Chinese security forces and
repatriated to the North, where they face hard labor in a prison camp -- a death
sentence for many -- or are executed outright.
You don't have to be familiar with this background to be
moved by "Crossing." The film follows the life of the fictional Kim
Yong-su, a miner in the bleak northern reaches of
, who leaves his family to flee to
in search of medicine for his dying wife. The title refers to
, which separates the two countries.
After Chinese police nearly capture Yong-su in a raid on the
logging camp where he works, he hooks up with sympathetic locals who help him
reach sanctuary in a German consulate. From there he is transferred to
, where he hires a broker to help him get his wife and young son out of the
North. He soon learns that his wife has died and that his son has been sent to a
prison camp after he was caught trying to cross into
to search for his father. The broker buys the boy's freedom, gets him to
and from there to freedom in
. I won't reveal the ending.
The most disquieting aspects of "Crossing" are the
scenes of daily life in
. One hundred refugees now resident in the South advised the filmmakers, and
assistant director Kim Chul Young is himself a defector. Yong-su and his family
live in a shack with a single lightbulb. Food is so scarce that his wife
scavenges wild vegetables and the beloved family dog is eventually eaten to
provide protein. Neighbors disappear one night when police discover Bibles
hidden in their ceiling.
Scenes of child beggars in the local marketplace are nearly
unbearable to watch. They stand at a distance from the peddlers and shoppers --
all of whom are pitifully poor themselves -- holding open plastic bags until
someone takes pity on them and tosses a crust of bread or pours the dregs of a
bowl of noodles into the bag. These details, like others in the film, are based
on refugee reports. They comport with stories I have heard from the many
defectors I have interviewed over the years.
The scenes in the prison camp where the boy, Jun, is taken
are also true to life, if "life" is the right word. Dead prisoners are
dragged out of their cells in the middle of the night. A woman, pregnant by a
Chinese man, is beaten by a guard who curses her "hybrid" baby. Mr.
Kim, the assistant director, tells the Web site www.dailynk.com
that the scene "had to be toned down a bit," as the real treatment of
such women would be too gruesome for audiences to endure.
"There have been many documentaries about life in
," says Patrick Daihui Cheh, one of the producers of "Crossing"
and an American of Korean heritage. "But as a feature film, I believe this
is the first." The South Korean government has long discouraged making
films that might be perceived as "political," he says.
"Crossing" walks a "fine line. If a movie seems too political, it
will deter people from going to see it." The younger generation of South
Koreans don't have a good understanding of what life is like in the North, Mr.
Cheh says. "They know, but they don't really know."
There have been private screenings of "Crossing" in
in recent weeks, and it will be shown soon in
and several European cities. Mr. Cheh says he is looking for a distributor in
and is talking to independent theater chains.
Jews often say of the Holocaust that the world must never
forget. Anyone who sees "Crossing" will not soon forget the suffering
of the North Korean people.
Ms. Kirkpatrick is a deputy editor of the Journal's editorial
2/22/08 Wall Street
Journal: "Seoul Is Criticized for Decision To Return 22 North Koreans,"
by Evan Ramstad and Sungha Park
Seoul, South Korea -- South Korea's decision to return 22 North Koreans who may have tried to defect is drawing criticism from defector groups, human-rights activists and some politicians who say government agencies acted too hastily.
The North Koreans -- 14 females and eight males, three teenagers among them -- floated to South Korea on two small boats, and were repatriated 13 hours after being found Feb. 8 near an island off South Korea's northwest coast. South Korean authorities usually hold North Koreans who venture across the border for several days and conduct lengthy, individual interviews.
"It's hard to believe that the South Korean government truly investigated and earnestly asked them if they want to live in South Korea in such a short time," said Son Jung-hun, an officer in a North Korean defectors group called the Committee for Democratization of North Korea.
The situation gained urgency early this week after several South Korean news outlets, citing government sources anonymously, reported that some, and perhaps all, of the 22 people were executed after their return to the North. A representative at South Korea's National Intelligence Service said yesterday that the agency hadn't been able to determine what happened to the North Koreans after they were returned.
The agency has defended its role in the episode, saying the people aboard the boats told investigators they lost control of their craft, drifted to shore in the South and wanted to return. The agency said there were fish nets and oysters in the boats, and the North Koreans explained they were fishing.
Critics said the presence of so many women and children on the boats, along with the fact they were traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday, suggests the group was trying to leave North Korea.
Post Foreign Service: As More Take a Chance On Fleeing
, Routes for All Budgets,
-- Brokers here are busily selling what they
call "planned escapes" from
's underground railroad to the South is busier
than ever because the number of border guards and low-level security officials
in the North who are eager to take bribes has increased exponentially.
is not supposed to return people to a country
where their lives are at risk. But it routinely repatriates North Koreans it has
detained, human rights groups say.
When defectors do succeed in
, they are often debilitated by guilt over the kin they left behind. And such
guilt is not unjustified, because the North Korean government often sends
relatives of defectors to forced labor camps.
That occurs as a matter of policy when defectors are
government or military officials with inside information about the workings of
Kim Jong Il's dictatorship.
, the capital, can also expect their families to be ordered to labor camps,
according to Lee, the former North Korean army officer, who said his relatives
were all dead when he defected.
Punishment may also be inflicted on the families of ordinary
people who manage to leave. "I just go crazy to think that because of me my
parents and my sister may be in a labor camp now," said a 40-year-old woman
who two years ago fled her North Korean coastal town in a fishing boat, along
with her husband and teenage son. She and her husband had run a small business
trading fish for food and consumer goods.
She has since heard that her mother, father and sister were
forced from their homes by the authorities and relocated to a farming area in
"We have hired brokers to try to find them, but the
guide sent to find them has been arrested," said the woman, who lives in a
suburb and did not want her name published for fear that her family would be
"You cannot know how heartbreaking it is to leave your
family in this way."
Fees and Incentives
Seoul-based brokers say they often accept payment on an
installment plan -- with little or no money upfront. Once an installment-plan
defector gets to
and has access to some of the $43,700 that
doles out to each new asylum seeker, brokers typically demand far more than
their basic fee.
"My boss is willing to put up all the money to pay the
bribes to get someone out," said a Seoul-based broker who was formerly a
North Korean military officer. "But when you get to
, you have to pay double for this service."
This broker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he
has a child and other relatives back in
, said his company usually charges less than $2,000 for bringing a defector to
. That automatically jumps to $4,000 for those who cannot offer cash
To help defectors remain solvent as they adjust to life in
the booming capitalist South, the
government now pays out money over time rather than in a lump sum, according to
Chun Sung-ho, the Unification Ministry official. It also offers incentives for
finding and holding jobs.
About a quarter of the money goes directly for housing,
eliminating any chance that it could be paid to a broker.
Guilt and Longing
Even after they pay off brokers for their own passage to
, North Koreans who settle in the South often end up spending many thousands of
dollars more to try to bring out loved ones left behind.
Lee Moon-jae, 81, fled
more than five decades ago. He soon remarried in the South and raised two sons.
But he continues to wrestle with the guilt and longing he feels for the wife and
two sons he abandoned.
Two years ago, he said, he paid $4,800 to a broker to bring
him face to face with one of his lost sons, who is now 58. They met for three
days and two nights in a hotel on the Chinese side of the border.
At the end, Lee said, his son declined to defect -- and
returned home to his wife and children. Before his son left, Lee said, he gave
him $1,700 in cash, a digital camera and some clothes -- but Lee later learned
that his son lost it all while swimming across the Tumen River that separates
China from North Korea.
So Lee has raised $3,250 for brokers who promised him they
will again contact his family. This month, he said, they hired agents who are
already out searching. He has asked them to set up another border meeting or, if
possible, smuggle out his entire family, including his aging North Korean
They all live in the interior of the country, and Lee says
that moving them to the border is complicated and perhaps foolhardy.
He says he is not sure he should be trying to do this, but he
is desperate to see them again. Talking about it brings tears to his rheumy
"I do not have much time before I die," he said.
"What should I do?"
Special correspondent Stella Kim contributed to this report.
10/6/07 Wall Street Journal: Review and Outlook: Freed in
President Bush has accepted the invitation of President Hu
Jintao to attend next summer's Beijing Olympics -- to the anger of human-rights
activists, who are calling for a boycott of the Games.
Here's a suggestion: Between now and then, the President
might consider welcoming to the Oval Office one Steve Kim, an American
businessman who was released recently from a Chinese jail. Mr. Kim spent four
years in prison for the "crime" of helping North Korean refugees who
had escaped their homeland and were hiding in
, hoping to make their way to
Mr. Kim, who is from the Long Island,
, is in the furniture business and since 1987 has been importing products from
. In the course of doing business there, he became aware of the plight of the
refugees, who, according to numerous estimates, number in the tens of thousands.
Instead of turning over the refugees to the United Nations, as it is required to
do under international law,
hunts them and returns them to
, where they face uncertain and often harsh fates.
With help from the congregation of his hometown house of
-- Mr. Kim raised money to help the refugees. He rented two apartments, where
refugees could hide out until they could hook up with the underground railroad
that would deliver them to safety in the South. The aim was to fatten up the
starved Northerners so that they could pass as South Koreans during the journey
Mr. Kim was arrested on September 26, 2003, along with nine
North Koreans and two Chinese humanitarian workers. The Chinese were sent to
jail for two years. No one knows what happened to the North Koreans, who
presumably were repatriated. If they are still alive, it can be said with near
certainty that they are not as lucky as Mr. Kim, who has finally come home to
his wife, Helen, and their three children.
3/10/07 Wall Street
Journal: Kim the Counterfeiter,
By Ed Royce (a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services
Drinks flowed as
's top negotiator and his American counterpart met in
this week in celebration of
's promise to give up its nuclear weapons. It was hard to believe that just five
actually exploded a nuclear weapon, for which it was roundly condemned. But
that condemnation is gone today -- as is any frank discussion of the criminal
nature of the regime, including its highly sophisticated operation to
Troubling signs indicate that the Bush administration is
prepared to push aside
's illicit activities, "resolving" issues surrounding Macau-based
Banco Delta Asia, which was found to be complicit in the counterfeit operation.
Regardless of the outcome surrounding Banco Delta Asia, active vigilance against
's robust and global illicit activities is essential. Confronting
on its illicit activities, as a study I will release on Monday shows, makes the
denuclearization of the
more likely, not less.
is the first country since Hitler's
proven to counterfeit another's currency. And in a little-noticed report sent
to Congress last September, the Treasury Department found that the forgeries,
high-quality "Supernotes," are "being produced and distributed
with the full consent and control of the North Korean government." This
includes both $100 and $50 bills, from the older series to the newer "big
head" notes. Approximately $50 million of them have been seized from
circulation since 1989.
Estimates on the amount of revenue generated from
counterfeits range from $15 million to $25 million per year, but the actual
amount may be considerably higher. As one government analyst put it, "We
have no idea how much they're counterfeiting, because it's so good." Left
unchecked, these counterfeits could eventually weaken confidence in the U.S.
dollar, with global consequences. Alarmingly, some countries -- such as
-- have temporarily refused accepting our $100 bills.
's counterfeiting network is global, employing a
diplomatic presence in more than 60 countries. An IRA splinter group leader has
even been arrested for distributing these bogus bills. Including drug
trafficking and other illicit activities, the criminal sector is responsible for
35% to 40% of
For Kim Jong Il, crime does pay. And given its ties to
international criminal organizations,
has access to a vast smuggling network that could allow it to move almost
anything in or out of the country, including weapons of mass destruction.
Realizing this, the administration stood up the Illicit
Activities Initiative in 2003. Its task was to attack the criminal lifeblood of
the regime -- which it did. The designation of Banco Delta Asia as a
"willing pawn" of the North Korean government in September 2005 led
banks throughout the region to sever contacts with the country, shaking
and leading the regime back to the negotiating table.
rejoined the six-party talks, its representative wanted to discuss one thing:
money. Pressure -- not appeasement -- worked. But in a concession to
committed to "resolve the issues concerning Banco Delta Asia" within
30 days of the Feb. 13 agreement.
It is unclear what this will mean exactly -- but now that a
deal has been made,
officials who once pressed the case against
's counterfeiting are talking about the "broader interest." They are
lately referring to the North Koreans as "only depositors" at Banco
Delta Asia, as if Kim Jong Il was attracted by its interest rates. The Illicit
Activities Initiative has now become enmeshed in the State Department's
bureaucracy, losing the coordination, energy, and access to top officials it
previously enjoyed -- and losing steam.
Some may believe that tolerating North Korean counterfeiting
is a small price to pay for disarming
of its nuclear weapons. This discounts the potential impact on the world's
economy. It also sends the unhelpful signal to the North Koreans that as long as
they make promises on their nuclear weapons, the
will bend on its laws.
's nuclear weapons program must be our primary objective. However, the
aggressive enforcement of our laws enhances rather than conflicts with the
diplomatic effort to do so. Putting a stop to
's counterfeit operation and other criminal activities would sever a key subsidy
's weapons of mass destruction program and frustrate Kim Jong Il's payments to
his inner circle. It would also condition
into respecting international norms.
Can we really expect a regime that counterfeits our currency
to abide by a nuclear weapons agreement? Only when
ends its criminal behavior are prospects for peace and security in
real. Let's help
3/6/07 Wall Street Journal: Kim the
Commentary by Melanie Kirkpatrick
A deputy editor of the Journal's editorial page.
When Japanese negotiators sit down tomorrow in
for bilateral talks with their North Korean counterparts, here's the question
at the top of their agenda: Where is Megumi?
Megumi Yokota is among the Japanese citizens kidnapped by
in the 1970s and '80s and still missing today. "There will be no
normalization of ties if the abductee issue is not resolved,"
's lead negotiator, Koichi Haraguchi, told reporters in
yesterday. Japanese diplomats aren't known for their bluntness, yet Mr.
Haraguchi's direct statement echoes the words of virtually every other senior
Japanese official on this subject.
says the matter is closed.
This week's meetings are part of the elaborate six-party
agreement reached in
last month under which
promises to give up its nuclear program in return for aid.
signed on to the accord, reportedly under
pressure, but refuses to participate in the energy assistance that is part of
the deal unless progress is made on the abduction issue.
's firmness comes directly from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He became
aware of the abductees' plight in the 1980s, when he was private secretary to
his father, Shintaro, then Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party,
and family members went through the younger Mr. Abe to request a meeting. When
he won his own election to the Diet, in 1993, he became the first politician to
fight for return of the abductees. He feels their suffering and the pain of
their families "in his heart," says a politician who is close to him.
Megumi, who was abducted in 1977, has become the symbol of
the movement to free the abductees. She was 13 years old and on her way home
from school when she was snatched off the streets of the western Japanese city
by North Korean agents. Imprisoned in the hold of a ship and taken to
, she was forced to teach spies how to pass as Japanese. In 2002, North Korean
dictator Kim Jong Il admitted to kidnapping Megumi and 11 other Japanese
Their stories are equally heart-rending: A young couple
while on a date at a beach, where they had gone to watch the sunset. A
23-year-old woman vanishes in Europe; the last her parents hear from her is a
. A mother and daughter go missing during a shopping trip in
. At the time, police who investigated these and other disappearances had no
notion of North Korean involvement. In recent years,
has reopened many of the missing-persons files from the era but the scent has
grown cold. There are only 17 people on the official list of abductees -- the
most recent was added in November -- but officials say privately that the
victims may number in the "hundreds."
, whose appeasement-minded government prefers not to talk about the kidnappings
of its citizens, has 485 people on its list of abductees.
allowed five of the Japanese abductees to
return home in 2002. (They were required to leave behind their Korean spouses
and children as guarantees that they wouldn't badmouth their captors.) It
claimed the rest of the abductees had all died, but the causes of death they
cited were so absurd as to be unbelievable -- a 20-something young woman who
dropped dead of a heart attack; a man who drowned while swimming in the ocean
during a typhoon; and so forth. Megumi was reported to have hanged herself. But
the DNA evidence provided by
in her case and others proved to be fraudulent.
"Megumi" is a household name in
, thanks largely to the efforts of her parents to keep her story alive. Her
mother, Sakie, met with President Bush in the White House last year. At the
World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January, the Japanese government hosted
a sushi reception and screening of "Abduction," a documentary about
her disappearance. Last month, in
, Mr. Abe attended a press conference at which American folk singer Noel Paul
Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, debuted his plaintive "Song for
Megumi." Meanwhile, a Japanese advocacy group last week announced it would
use balloons to scatter 100,000 waterproof leaflets over
offering a $10,000 reward for information on the abductees.
Among the promises the
as part of the Feb. 13 nuclear disarmament deal is a pledge to begin the
process of removing it from the list of terror-sponsoring states. When Vice
President Dick Cheney visited
last month, Mr. Abe urged the
not to do so until the abduction issue is resolved. While President Bush has
spoken eloquently in the past about human-rights violations in
, that issue appears not to be high on the
agenda these days. Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill is holding talks in
with his North Korean counterpart this week. A good question for him to ask is,
Where is Megumi?
1/9/07 Wall Street Journal:
"South Korea's Balancing Act: Citizen Who Escaped From North's Custody
Touches Diplomatic Nerve,"
By Evan Ramstad
Seoul, South Korea -- The government's botched treatment of a
South Korean who had just escaped a 31-year captivity in North Korea is the
latest example of how Seoul is struggling to balance diplomacy with Pyongyang's
volatile regime against the interests of its own people.
Wall Street Journal: "
's Balancing Act: Citizen Who Escaped From North's Custody Touches Diplomatic
Seoul, South Korea -- The government's botched treatment of a
South Korean who had just escaped a 31-year captivity in
is the latest example of how
is struggling to balance diplomacy with
's volatile regime against the interests of its own people.
Choi Wook Il, a South Korean fisherman abducted by the North in
1975, fled and made his way last week to Shenyang, a Chinese city about 80 miles
from the North's border. South Korean officials there initially refused to help
the 67-year-old Mr. Choi, and they took him into custody several days later only
after their rebuff had drawn heavy criticism across the South.
The difficulty Mr. Choi faced at the consulate shows the tightrope
is walking with
. On the one hand, it is trying to balance its relationship with the
, its military protector that has taken a hard line with
, and provide assistance to escapees from the totalitarian North. On the other
hand, it is trying to maintain influence with
and avoid diplomatic difficulties with
, which aids
's travel restrictions by arresting and returning about 150 North Koreans a week
to the country.
has been trying with mixed results to slow the flow of refugees from the North
and improve relations with
. Those efforts now appear to have gone so far that
is reluctant to assist even its own citizens who have been abducted by the
North. During the Cold War period from the 1960s to the 1980s, 485 South Koreans
are believed to have been kidnapped by the North for political and, at times,
The dismissive treatment by consulate officials angered many South
Koreans who are eager to see the government give assistance to citizens
kidnapped by the North.
"A South Korean risked his life, and it's unacceptable that
such an answer be given to him," said Choi Woo Young, who is the daughter
of a man abducted by
in 1987. "The government has shown less interest in defectors and
kidnapped people through the years."
The Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and Trade issued an apology Friday for the way Mr. Choi was treated, and
it launched a probe of the incident.
has absorbed about 7,000 defectors from the North, a large increase compared
with 3,000 in all the previous years since the Korean War in the 1950s. The
South's attitude toward defectors and refugees hardened after a group of 468
North Koreans arrived by way of
in August 2004, raising the prospect of larger increases. Shortly after that,
South Korean officials said they wouldn't tolerate "mass defections,"
and in 2005, they cut the money provided to help defectors settle in
The number of North Korean defectors and refugees to the South
subsequently fell to 1,384 in 2005 from 1,894 in 2004, when it was inflated by
group. The number rose again last year, reaching 1,542 through October.
Statistics for November and December won't be available until later this month.
The controversy over Mr. Choi's treatment has been fueled by video,
first circulated on the Internet last week and then on South Korean television.
The video, made by a South Korean man who assisted Mr. Choi in his escape, shows
Mr. Choi speaking by cellphone to an officer, who repeatedly asks how Mr. Choi
got his number.
Mr. Choi is one of 33 South Korean men taken by
when their ship was seized in a 1975 incident well known in
. Another member of the ship's crew escaped in 2005.
Mr. Choi crossed into
on Christmas Day and spent a week making his way to
. When he got there, it took numerous phone calls to get help from the consulate
and several days to be taken into its custody. At first, he was mistaken for a
North Korean defector and was told the consulate dealt only with South Koreans
, Mr. Choi's wife drew further attention when she appeared on TV tearfully
asking for help.
Mr. Choi remained in
yesterday as the foreign ministry worked with the Chinese government to arrange
his exit to
, a process that could take several weeks. While
has a policy of returning North Korean citizens, it has shown more flexibility
with people who were abducted by the North.
12/18/06 Wall Street Journal: Pastor Buck Is a Rescuer . . .
By Melanie Kirkpatrick
Deputy Editor of the Journal's editorial page.
This being The Wall Street Journal, we went straight to the
bottom line. How much, we asked our visitor at a recent editorial board meeting,
does it cost to free one North Korean refugee hiding in
The Rev. Phillip Buck pauses a moment before replying,
apparently making the yuan-to-dollar conversions on the abacus in his mind.
"If I do it myself," he says, "the cost is $800 per person. If I
hire a broker to do it, it's $1,500."
Pastor Buck is a rescuer. It's a job title that applies to a
courageous few -- mostly Americans and South Koreans and predominantly
Christians -- who operate the underground railroad that ferries North Korean
refugees out of China to South Korea, and now, thanks to 2004 legislation, to
the U.S. Mr. Buck, an American from Seattle, says he has rescued more than 100
refugees and helped support another 1,000 who are still on the run. For this
's policy is to hunt down and repatriate North Koreans -- he spent 15 months in
a Chinese prison. He was released in August.
The plight of the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees
is a humanitarian crisis that has received scant world attention. It won't be
on the agenda of the six-party talks, which are scheduled to restart today in
. But the experience of Pastor Buck and other rescuers is worth noting as
negotiators sit down with Kim Jong Il's emissaries.
won't change, they believe, so long as Kim remains in power. Follow that logic,
and regime change is the proper goal.
The refugees, Pastor Buck argues, are the key to regime
and, by inference, the key to halting the North's nuclear and missile programs.
Help one man or woman escape, he says, and that person will get word to his
family back home about the freedom that awaits them on the outside.
Others will follow, and the regime will implode. This is what
happened in 1989, when
refused to turn back East Germans fleeing to the West, thereby hastening the
collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Pastor Buck was born in
in 1941 and fled with his brothers to the South during the Korean War.
He emigrated to the
in the '80s, becoming a citizen in 1992. When famine hit
in the late '90s, and millions died, he raised relief funds in Korean churches
"I helped send 150 tons of flour and rice to the North," he says,
"and 70 tons of fertilizer . . . This was a time when government rations
had stopped and people were living off grass."
But on visits to the North, he soon realized that the
government was stealing the food intended for starving citizens. "I changed
my mind" about the efficacy of aid, he says, and in 1998 he joined the
effort to help people escape. "If you see someone who is drowning in the
river, wouldn't you reach out and help that person?" he asks. "That's
what was in my heart."
Pastor Buck is nothing if not determined. In 2002, while in a
Southeast Asian country with a group of refugees he had guided there, his
apartment in Yanji city, in northeast
, was raided. Nineteen refugees were captured and a copy of his passport was
confiscated. With his identity now compromised, Mr. Buck returned to the
and underwent legal proceedings to change his name. John Yoon, the name he was
born with, was dead; Phillip Buck was born.
The new Pastor Buck returned to
, where, on May 25, 2005, he was arrested and eventually convicted of the crime
of helping illegal immigrants. Thanks to the intervention of the
government, he was deported before he could be sentenced.
Another American, Steve Kim, was not so lucky. Mr. Kim, a
furniture importer from
, has been in prison in
since September 2003, sentenced to five years for smuggling aliens. Mr. Kim,
who, like Mr. Buck, is of Korean ancestry and is a Christian, became aware of
the plight of the refugees during business trips to
. He funded two safe houses and paid for refugees' passage on the underground
refuses to grant him parole, saying foreigners are not eligible. His wife and
three children will pass their fourth Christmas without him.
Mr. Buck, meanwhile, will celebrate Christmas at home in
Seattle, along with four refugees, now settled in South Korea, whom he has
invited to spend the holiday with him and his family. These refugees -- two men
and two women -- have harrowing personal tales of starvation, death and
repression in the North and desperate lives on the run in
One young man, who asks that his name not be used for fear of
retribution on family members still at home, spent time in the North Korean
gulag, after being captured in
and repatriated. He was tortured, he says -- rolling up his trousers at a
recent press conference in
to display the scars on his legs.
One morning at roll call, he recounts, one of his cellmates,
a man who had been badly beaten during the night, was too sick to get out of
bed. The guards ordered the prisoners to carry the injured man into the woods
and bury him. "I keep thinking, maybe he would still be alive if we hadn't
buried him," the escapee says. The name of the dead man was Kim Young Jin.
The name of the prison is Chong Jin. Says the man who escaped: "I am very
glad to be here, and tell the people in
how life in
Pastor Buck spent last Christmas in jail. "My cellmates
were criminals," he says, "12 in all, murderers and rapists." His
diary entry for Dec. 24, 2005, notes that he distributed the chocolates his
children had sent him as Christmas gifts to his cellmates. And this year?
"I am so excited that I can celebrate this Christmas with lots of
joy," his diary entry for last Thursday reads.
His final words are for the refugees. "I pray, let the
Christmas spirit be with those North Korean refugees still in
. Let them be safe too."
10/21/06 Wall Street Journal: Desperate Refugees Driven By Famine and
In regard to the moving essay Great Leadership by Suki
Kim (editorial page, Oct. 16):
Driven by famine and brutal oppression, hundreds of thousands
of North Korean refugees have fled to
. There, they still face tremendous suffering as the numerous gut-wrenching
letters from them to Radio Free Asia (RFA) indicate. One typical letter states,
"But the Korean-Chinese people abused us because we couldn't speak Chinese.
They arranged jobs for us but took our wages. All of us North Korean refugees
have nowhere to go to complain. This has lasted for six years. I don't know what
to do now. I have thought many times about committing suicide."
Also, the Chinese police periodically conduct raids, each
rounding up hundreds of the refugees. The police immediately arrange for Chinese
soldiers to send the refugees to certain torture and death in
. In one particular case, after the soldiers handed a refugee over to the North
Korean guards at the Chinese-Korean border, "[a Korean guard] seized her
and another speared her hand -- the soft part between thumb and forefinger --
with the point of a sharpened steel cable, which he twisted into a leash. 'She
screamed just like a pig when we kill it at home in the village,' the soldier
later told his relative. 'Then they dragged her away.'"
While this brutality occurs month after month, many members
of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) send their adult children to the
to study, to work and to live permanently. Ultimately, they take advantage of
lenient American immigration laws and arrange to bring their parents here to
savor the good life. These privileged Chinese enjoy the freedoms and prosperity
even while their relatives and other comrades in the CCP orchestrate the
brutalization of helpless Korean refugees.
The time has come for
to address this sickening hypocrisy. Namely, we Americans should give Beijing
an ultimatum: If Beijing does not allow the North Korean refugees to transit
freely through China to reach sanctuary in the U.S., Japan or another democracy,
then Washington (in alliance with other Western governments) shall (1) prohibit
any CCP member or his relatives from entering any Western country and, (2)
deport all CCP members and their relatives who are residing in a Western nation
but who do not possess its citizenship.
Dwight Sunada, Ph.D.
10/16/06 Wall Street
Journal: Great Leadership,
by Suki Kim
Despite the much-touted label of being the most secretive
nation in the world, the one thing everyone knows about North Korea is that its
people have been dying in massive numbers from starvation and persecution for
decades, the reality of which seems to have bypassed the nations involved in the
on-again-off-again six-party talks -- whose diplomacy has apparently failed. By
landing a punch at the nonproliferation policy of the U.N. Security Council, an
organization soon to be led by South Korean Ban Ki Moon,
yet again thwarted its former promises of stopping all nuclear activities. The
Bush administration is advocating harsher ways of punishing a country they
maintain is a member of the "axis of evil" through tougher sanctions
and cutting off its financial sources, neither of which has worked so far in
stopping North Korea from doing whatever it wants to do. Now that it claims to
have become the world's ninth nuclear power, I wonder what will change, if
anything, for its people.
* * *
On June 25, 1950, when
, my mother's brother, then age 18 and living in
, was kidnapped by the North's soldiers. Fleeing the bombs, my grandmother, with
her five children, fought through the panicked crowd onto the jam-packed,
southbound train when someone screamed out that young men should give up their
seats for women and children. My grandmother spent her remaining life haunted by
that last moment, of her eldest son rising and reassuring her that he would be
on the next train. Hers turned out to be the last train out of
. Later, a neighbor reported seeing him tied up and being dragged away by the
North Korean soldiers. Korean Confucian ethics holds that there is no bigger sin
than abandoning one's family, and yet neither Korean government has granted
reunions for the millions of separated families, except for a handful who have
been used as a showcase for the failed peace summits.
In February 2002, I
in an effort to locate my uncle. I never found him, but I spent about a week
with the Workers' Party leaders, ranging from the chairman of the Committee for
Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries to the then-ambassador to the
Permanent Mission to the U.N., who repeatedly told me that their real enemy was
not South Korea, with whom they are still technically at war, but the U.S.,
which, along with the Soviet Union, had drawn up the 38th Parallel in 1948 and
perpetuated the war by isolating them through sanctions. They were mystified as
to why the
was allowed to have nuclear weapons when it was the only nation in history to
have deployed them on civilians, never mind starting wars all over the world.
My most vivid impression of
was that an entire generation must have been eradicated for such a place to
exist. Nothing on their empty, energy-deprived streets indicated that anything
prior existed. Every book, piece of artwork and building was either made by the
Great Leader or about the Great Leader. Their only official newspaper, Rodong
Sinmun, was four pages long and consisted almost exclusively of praise for their
Great Leader. Their state-controlled TV showed mostly undated footage of the
Great Leader. Everywhere I went, music played in the background and the subject
of the lyrics was inevitably the Great Leader.
The regime of
has done a most efficient job of wiping out
's 5,000-year history, imbued with Buddhism, Shamanism and Confucianism, with
one amnesia-inflicting spell called "Juche," its political philosophy
of self-reliance. And what seems to make the Great Leader so "great"
is that he has replaced their lost memory. For my uncle to have survived there,
he either would have had to forget everything he had known, or learned to
believe in the Great Leader. Or it is possible that he held on with the hope for
to reunite; my grandmother did, until she passed away 25 years after he went
In the 1970s in
, I grew up with the anthem, "Our Wish is Reunification," which
children still sing. Today, however, South Koreans readily claim North Koreans
as their siblings and yet they hesitate upon the topic of the Kim Jong Il
regime's collapse, which might lead to the breakdown of 38th Parallel and to
millions of refugees pouring south. President Roh Moo Hyun's increasingly less
popular "sunshine policy" has provided a conduit through which money
is funneled into North Korea for supposed economic reform, although it now looks
as though it has effectually funded the North's nuclear program.
is not the only one who fears the consequence
of Kim Jong Il's demise. Neither
's biggest allies and neighbors, wants to foot the bill for refugees. As many as
300,000 North Koreans have crossed the northern border since the Korean War
despite a joint crackdown from North Korean agents and Chinese police. For
, the threat from
has provided a basis for lobbying for remilitarization and a revision of their
post-World War II, U.S.-sponsored pacifist constitution. America, whose
soon-to-be downsized 32,000 troops are still stationed in Seoul's Yong San
Garrison, does not want to forfeit its control over the region to China, whose
trading relationship with South Korea and economic hold over the North have
grown rapidly in recent years. The prospect of One Korea benefits no one except
the welfare of the North Korean people, whom the mighty six-party nations seem
to have forgotten. So why are we relying on their decision on what to do about
Just last month, the World Food Program launched an appeal
for more funds to fight the food shortage in North Korea, worsened by the August
flood that had, according to the state's figures, killed and left homeless
hundreds, although various human rights groups claim numbers closer to hundreds
of thousands if not millions. Over a third of all children are reported to be
malnourished. According to Amnesty International, 400,000 have perished from
political persecution; 150,000 are still held in underground concentration
camps. Since the much condemned July 4 missile tests, humanitarian aid has been
In the 1970s, South Korean propaganda posters of starving
children were forced upon us to show that
was hell on earth and that its leader was a selfish, ruthless despot. In the
decades since, during which time a famine killed over a tenth of
's 23 million people, not much has changed at all. The 38th Parallel is still
there. The most the Bush administration has done in its diplomatic strategy
is to call it evil. The peace talks are continuously stalled. The U.N. is in
yet another emergency huddle to figure out a way of handling the problem. Now
claims to be a nuclear power, what will be different?
In the meantime, the Siberian winter is quickly approaching
for the people of
, where heat and food are scarcer than ever. The Rodong Sinmun headlines after
the nuclear test revealed just one brief congratulatory paragraph on the success
of the test, which has turned the rest of the world upside down. The other
articles were about the floral baskets delivered to their Great Leader from the
various communist parties of
Ms. Kim, a 2006 Guggenheim fellow, is author of "The
Interpreter" (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003).
12/9/05 Wall Street Journal: Desperate Journey,
By Nancy Dewolfe Smith
Despite its whimsical title, "Seoul Train" is
deadly serious -- and yet so compelling that you can't stop watching even though
you know it will haunt your dreams. Its subject is the "underground
railroad" of North Korean refugees who are running for their lives in a
desperate attempt to reach freedom. (On PBS's Independent Lens series, Tuesday,
10-11 p.m. ET. Check local listings.)
Getting out of
, which this documentary accurately describes as the "world's largest
prison camp," may be the easy part. Once they make it over the border into
, the refugees are hunted like rabbits by zealous Chinese cops and soldiers.
Forcibly repatriated to
, the refugees face torture and imprisonment for the treasonous act of leaving
the country. It's a crime punishable by death. Some of the North Koreans
interviewed for this film probably are dead already.
Apart from a few sickening scenes shot secretly in North
Korea, most of the program takes place in China, where we meet groups of
refugees awaiting rides on an underground route to safety. One of the most
welcoming destinations is
, which has a reputation for treating North Koreans humanely before helping
them reach their ultimate destination in democratic
Schindler of Asia
We meet the first group of refugees as they plan a trip by
train, taxi and foot across
to the Mongolian border. They include Han Sul-hee, who is 17. She and the rest
of the group, mainly young adults who have left parents and siblings behind, are
sitting in a safe house with a Christmas tree and Santa decorations. They have
been waiting several months -- eating proper food and trying to gain enough
weight so they'll look healthy enough to pass for South Korean tourists. So
's government-induced famine that the average 7-year-old child in
is about half a foot shorter than his counterpart in
, and it's estimated that up to three million souls have perished from hunger
in recent years.
The camera follows Sul-hee and the others as they head for
the train station in
, for a journey that will be full of peril at every stage, especially in towns
where the locals like to report foreigners to the police. The refugees' escort
is Chun Ki-won, a South Korean pastor who has been called the "Schindler of
Asia" for his rescue efforts. We last see him and his little tour group as
they head into the Gobi, just a few miles from the crossing into
. The hidden camera could go no farther, so a message on our TV screen fills in
the rest: Chun and all his charges were arrested at the border by Chinese
We know how awful that must have been from the scenes we do
see, of another group of North Koreans who tried a different method of escape.
With the help of activist-guide Moon Kook-han, this group moved into a motel
near the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, China, where they spent days preparing
to dash through the gates onto sovereign Japanese soil and demand asylum.
According to the plan, two men in the group would go first, pushing Chinese
guards aside so the women, including 2-year-old Han-mi and her mother, could
rush into the consulate yard.
A camera across the street recorded what happened next:
Reaching the gate, the men barged through but the guards grabbed Han-mi and her
mother. As a crowd gathered, and the camera rolled, the mother clung to the iron
gate, screaming and struggling with all her might to break free and get to
safety, just a few precious feet away. But the guards wrestled her to the
ground. The last shot we see is little Han-mi's terrified face as the guards
overpower her mother.
Like a Human Being
Mr. Moon also worked with the seven North Koreans who tried
yet another approach and formally applied for refugee status at the Chinese
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The MoFA-7, as the group became known, were
arrested by Chinese authorities and presumably repatriated. None has been heard
of again. Mr. Moon weeps when he thinks that he may have, in effect, led them to
Watching film of the MoFA-7 in the moments before their
arrest -- one woman tells the camera that she's willing to risk death for the
chance "to live like a human being with dignity" -- it's tempting to
heap all the blame on
. But the behavior of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is in a
way more shocking. A UNHCR official interviewed here says that while some of the
North Koreans may be refugees, there's not much his agency can do to help them.
After all, he explains, "a couple" of UNHCR representatives went to
the border "four or five years ago" to look into the situation of
refugees there and were prevented from doing that by Chinese authorities,
"so it's not like we haven't tried."
A few of the North Koreans seen in this program have since
been released from captivity in China and made their way to South Korea, some
with the help of concerned members of Congress. But most of the stories do not
have happy endings. Since Mr. Chun was arrested at the Mongolian border in 2001,
many thousands of refugees have tried and failed to reach freedom. All the
program can do is end our ignorance. Someday, when the full extent of North
Koreans' suffering is revealed, no one who has seen "Seoul Train" will
be able to say, "I didn't know."