Amid North Korea’s apparent efforts at preventing defections and orchestrating re-defections, we have learned that Moon Hyeok-Chul (aged 52) is the latest defector to have gone missing under suspicious circumstances. He left North Korea in 2005 and had been working as a bus driver in South Korea.
Both Moon’s colleagues and members of the defector community respected him for his gentle nature and diligence. After receiving a call from a broker based in Dandong, who allegedly delivered a message to him from relatives in North Korea who wanted to set up a business with him, Moon traveled to China on May 1st. His mobile phone has remained off since that time, and inquiries made through brokers in Dandong have yielded no results.
Broker Kim Hyong-man* (aged 43) says, “The Dandong broker who asked Moon to come to China is an overseas Chinese, who often goes into North Korea. He is also missing. It appears that they have become entangled with the DPRK Ministry of National Security. For a long time, many of us suspected that broker of colluding with the DPRK to entrap defectors. Unfortunately, Moon didn’t realize this. If you trace his steps, it fits well with the news of a defector having been kidnapped by North Korean agents. It’s too close to be a coincidence.”
There is no way of establishing whether Moon has in fact been kidnapped by North Korean agents. Nevertheless, acquaintances interviewed independently by us concur that foul play may be involved in his disappearance. Kim Kwang-seok* (aged 47, Yangcheon-gu) says, “He is a good friend of mine. I registered him as missing with the police, but I am only getting vague responses. He is a South Korean citizen and I don’t know why no formal steps are being taken by ROK authorities.”
Another North Korean refugee, Kang Seok-jun* (aged 52, Songpa-gu) says that he knows of more than twenty defectors who have gone missing under suspicious circumstances. He criticized the ROK government strongly: “We are legal South Korean citizens, and should be given appropriate protection. Although North Korean refugees keep going missing under suspicious circumstances, [they] are not investigating disappearances, let alone keeping count of missing persons. Is it more important to do high level dialogue? Rather than protect citizens?”
The Ko Kyong-hui re-defection made public by the DPRK on Jan 24th as “self-initiated” is viewed, unanimously, by the North Korean refugee community as a case of kidnapping. Lee Mi-kyong* (aged 35) was a colleague of Ko. She says, “After she set off to China, I went to her house. The fridge was full of food and laundry was drying. Ko had told me how pleased she was to be fetching her daughter from North Korea. Through the defector network in China, we even know the name of the broker who was responsible for her until she went missing.”
Other North Korean refugees interviewed say that the ROK government had not formally responded to such cases. If these disappearances had involved a ‘native’ South Korean citizen, the press would be all over it, they claim. The situation is being perceived as discrimination of North Korean refugees.
DPRK Press Conference Held With Latest ‘Re-Defectors’
It was made public on May 18th that three more defectors recently returned to North Korea from the South. The number of such re-defections has now risen to eleven since June last year, when Pak Jong-suk returned to North Korea.
In an article entitled “Round-Table Talks Held with Citizens Who Parted from South Korea and Returned to the Embrace of the Republic,” North Korea’s KCNA noted on the 17th, “Round-table talks were held at Koryo Compatriots House with citizens who had been dragged to the south by the sinister plots and allurement of the south Chosun puppets but returned to the embrace of the Republic.”
The three figures interviewed at the event were Kang Kyong-suk (aged 60), Kim Kyong-ok (aged 41) and Ri Hyok-chol (aged 26), who lived in Onsung County in North Hamgyong Province, Sariwon City in North Hwanghae Province and Chongjin in North Hamgyong Province respectively. Among them, Ri is known to be the man who stole a fishing vessel from Yeonpyeong Island and sailed it across the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea on April 3rd.
According to the piece, “Kim recalled, ‘I was dragged to south Chosun by the threats and lures of Kim Kwang-chol, an expert in wandering the Chinese border area buying and tempting people. I was dragged via refugee camps in Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province, and Thailand.’”
In the interview, Ri said he was taken to South Korea through deception by his elder brother. He is said to have acted at the orchestration of Chon Ki-won, a pastor from “Durihana,” a missionary organization based in Bangbae-dong, Seoul. He described the details of how he crossed the border: “On April 3rd, around 10.40pm, the search light suddenly went on and they saw me slipping out between the patrol boat and destroyer. I made the fishing boat go at full speed. The security was so lax and the puppet navy soldiers didn’t seem to want to catch me.”
Kang said that she crossed into China due to fears over her dishonourable personal life, and was looking for work there. She went to South Korea after meeting a National Intelligence Service agent in April 2010, but returned to North Korea in March this year after hearing that other returning defectors, including Pak Jong-suk, were living very well.
The three said that while in South Korea, they were made to publicly slander and insult North Korea, as well as feeling persecution and shame.
Previously in January, Kim Kwang-ho, his wife, their daughter and one other person re-defected to North Korea and held a press conference in Pyongyang.
In addition, the re-defections of Kim Kwang-hyuk and Ko Jong-nam were also announced in November of last year. They appeared at a press conference and heavily criticized South Korean society.