July 19, 2005


N. Korea defector seeks help from Bush (Bill Gertz, July 19, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

A North Korean defector who survived 10 years in a prison labor camp said he told President Bush last month that the United States should do more to help those who flee the communist regime.

"The people who are at the camps, the [North Korean] government wants to kill them all," Kang Chol-hwan said in an interview with The Washington Times. "Instead of executing them, they kill them slowly, making them work in forced labor. That was the hardest part."

Mr. Kang, 37, said prisoners are fed very small portions of corn and salt that make it "impossible to survive" without additional food. As a result, prisoners survive by eating cooked rats and snakes, and live lizards, he said. [...]

Mr. Kang said about 200,000 North Koreans are in the prison labor camp system throughout the country. All in the camps are malnourished, and unless their will is strong, they eventually die, he said.

Mr. Kang said he agreed to meet the president after a White House National Security Council official told him that Mr. Bush had read his book and became interested in the human rights problem there.

The book, "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," is an account of Mr. Kang's 10-year prison work camp experience from age 10 to 20. He disclosed in detail the systematic torture, beatings, public executions and starvation in his camp.

Mr. Kang said he never expected to meet Mr. Bush, but on June 13, he spent 40 minutes in the Oval Office discussing North Korea and human rights and other issues.

"I was nervous about meeting the most powerful leader in the world, but when I met him, President Bush was very casual and helped me relax. I had a great time," said Mr. Kang, who is visiting the United States this week to take part in a conference on human rights.

Mr. Kang said he and the president discussed ways the United States could help provide assistance to North Korea without having to go through channels controlled by Mr. Kim.

Foreign assistance sent to the country is used by "elites" to keep the regime in power while most of the population is starving, he said.

"I suggested that the problem of North Korean defectors is a very urgent matter," Mr. Kang said. "I emphasized that creating an environment where defectors can more easily get out of the country would eventually help bring down the North Korean regime, similar to what happened in East Germany."

Helping refugees flee the communist state would be a more effective way of dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue, Mr. Kang said he told the president.

Mr. Bush responded by telling Mr. Kang that helping North Korean defectors is important, but that there are many diplomatic obstacles in the way of doing more to support them. The president agreed, however, the suggestions were "a great idea," Mr. Kang said.

The president asked Mr. Kang whether the United States should get "directly involved" in helping people flee North Korea. And Mr. Kang said he told Mr. Bush that direct involvement would be important in helping change perceptions of the United States inside North Korea, where the people are "brainwashed with anti-Americanism."

"If the United States pressures North Korea only on the nuclear issue, the North Korean government can utilize that to increase the level of anti-Americanism in the country," Mr. Kang said.

Mr. Kang's memoir of survival cries out for regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2005 8:12 AM

Can't we all just get along?

Posted by: John J. Coupal at July 19, 2005 8:52 AM

Removing the NK leadership and beginning the process of converting NK into a democratic country would be great. I'm not confident Bush will be able to bring this about before he leaves office, especially since he can't count on support from the Dems, the MSM, and even South Korea.

Posted by: AWW at July 19, 2005 10:58 AM

Hell, it cries out to be made into a movie. Good luck on ever finding a Hollywood director who'd betray his own kind and film something unkind to a communist regime while a Republican is in power.

Posted by: BC Monkey at July 19, 2005 1:46 PM

His comment about creating an environment similar to that of East Germany is brilliant. As I recall (and I might be missing a point or two), what happened in Eastern Europe was that Hungary decided to allow trans-migration of East Germans through to the West. Once that happened, given internal Warsaw Pact travel, the floodgates were opened.

So what's needed here is that either China or Russia have to be persuaded to allow trans-migration of North Koreans through to the South (or to a third country who will then permit final travel to S Korea). That would begin to open the floodgates.

I don't know how we'd persuade/pressure either China or Russia to do this, as both might perceive a collapsing North Korea as against their interests. But coupling this to some sort of guarantee (by the US and S Korea) that they'd have some say in how North Korea (or a unified Korea) would be reconstructed might be able to turn the deal. The Russians, I suspect, wouldn't mind some favorable business deals with South Korea.

Posted by: Steve White at July 19, 2005 6:21 PM