Four South Koreans held by Pyongyang
ICC Note: After Robert Park is returned to US, word gets out that four more South Koreans are held by North Korea, possibly Christians.
by Sunny Lee
2/28/10 North Korea (The National) – The US missionary, Robert Park, arrives in Beijing after illegally entering North Korea to draw attention to rights abuses there. Andy Wong / AP
BEIJING // North Korea is questioning four South Koreans for illegal entering the country, the third time since December that Pyongyang has reported such an unlawful breach of its border.
South Korean authorities said yesterday they were struggling to identify the four people, while some observers suspect the individuals are Christian evangelists or human rights activists.
The North has so far refused to release the detainees’ identities.
Officials in the South’s unification ministry said none of more than 1,000 South Korean citizens working or travelling in the North had gone missing and the South’s military said no holes were found in barbed wire fences along the Korean border.
Choi Seung-yong, a Seoul-based activist, quoting informants in China, told Yonhap news service the four crossed the border between China’s Tumen city and Namyang in the North several days ago. He said they had entered the North in an attempt to meet its secretive leader, Kim Jong Il.
The last person to infiltrate the North was Robert Park, a US missionary who walked into the North across the frozen Tumen River from China on December 25 to draw attention to Pyongyang’s rights abuses. He was freed on February 6 after expressing what the North described as “sincere repentance”.
The North has said it is also holding an unidentified US citizen arrested for illegal entry from China on January 25. That person’s motives are unknown and US officials have not confirmed the detention.
Rhee Bong-jo, a former South Korean vice minister of unification, said in an interview that the individuals probably did not cross into North Korea via the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas, because the North did not use the typical term “defection by righteous decision”, a euphemism it uses to describe those who enter via the DMZ.
The crossing into North Korea is the latest in an unusual series of recent incidents in which people entered the country illegally, and raises the question of why these individuals go to the world’s most isolated country on their own volition, risking getting shot by border guards while crossing.
Mr Park waded across the Chinese-North Korean border on Christmas Day to “deliver God’s message” to Mr Kim to improve human rights conditions. Last month, a South Korean in his 40s flew to Yanji, a Chinese city near the border, and entered straight into North Korea, despite repeated protests by a panicked Chinese taxi driver, who took him from the airport, South Korean media reports said.