Monday, October 31, 2005

A Survivor Recounts Horrors of North Korea's Prison Camps

Lee's crime was that she was hungry. After years of meager rations in North Korea, the 22-year-old woman with curly hair left her peasant family's home and slipped across the border into China, hoping to find something to eat. She was caught and sent back, handcuffed, to a North Korean prison camp -- a world of cruelty.

She was worked to exhaustion, forced to run in her bare feet as she carried heavy bricks at a construction site. Her food was a bowl of watery soup every day with cabbage and a few rotten corn kernels.

There was no escape. "I didn't feel anything," said Lee, now 28 and safe after an escape that brought her to Seoul four months ago. Beaten, starved and assaulted by horrors, "you just don't think about anything. You really have no fear of death. At that point, you're just a machine with no emotion."

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights condemned North Korea's human rights record, answering years of demands by activists that the world confront the abuses.

The commission expressed "deep concern" about conditions in the country, including torture, public executions, political executions, use of political prison camps and selective provision of food.

The vote is a response in part to the harsher tone adopted by the Bush administration in dealing with North Korean abuses. Previously, the United States and other countries had been reluctant to push the human rights issue with the prickly North Korean government, arguing that it would have little effect.

But to the dismay of activists, South Korea and its new president, Roh Moo Hyun, a human rights lawyer, abstained from voting.

"South Korea should be ashamed that foreign countries are saying what we are afraid to say on behalf of fellow Koreans," said Chun Ki Won, a South Korean Christian aid worker who has been jailed in China for his work helping North Koreans escape.

Human rights activists estimate there are about 200,000 prisoners in at least five large North Korean camps, some confined for trying to escape like Lee, others for political offenses that make it likely they will die in prison.

Rights activists were especially critical of South Korea's position, saying they expected more from South Korea's new government.

"It will go down as a stain on South Korea's history," said Tim Peters, director of Helping Hands Korea, which assists defectors. "There should be outrage toward the government here. Nothing can top the irony of a human rights Nobel laureate [former president Kim Dae Jung], followed by a human rights lawyer, and neither of them raising the issue of human rights."

Roh, in a recent interview with The Washington Post, defended his position.

"Rather than confronting the Kim Jong Il regime over human rights of a small number of people, I think it is better for us to open up the regime through dialogue," he said. "I think this will ultimately bring broader protection of human rights for North Korean people as a whole.

"As in Iraq, I don't think the North Korean human rights conditions can be changed by pressure from international public opinion," Roh added. "If I bring up the human rights [issue], it will not help improve human rights conditions in North Korea. Rather, it will be an obstacle to bringing an 'opening up' or peace in North Korea."

Lee saw the horror of those human rights conditions during her imprisonment in North Korea. The young woman cannot give her full name; her mother and three siblings still in North Korea would be in grave danger. Sitting in an activist's office in Seoul, her pretty smile dissolves into tears at recalling her months in prison.

Each night, she said, the 160 women in the camp lined up, heads bowed, as a guard whipped those who had not worked hard enough and slammed the heads of others against the wall. Fifty women were packed into a tiny room, forced to sleep while sitting.

"You go to sleep, and the next morning the person next to you is cold, dead," she said. "The older women would die right away." She said that a fellow prisoner, desperate with hunger, bit off half the ear of a woman who had died, and put it in her pocket to eat later.

Two sisters who tried to escape were caught and brought back to the camp to serve as a lesson. Lee said they were forced to lift a heavy log until it fell, crushing them. Other prisoners were ordered to stomp on the sisters' hands to break their bones. Finally the two women were strapped to a wall to be starved to death.

"After a week their bodies were gone. They had died," said Lee.

Lee became so weak in the camp she was sent home to die. Instead, a trader carried her on his back across the river to China, where she recovered her strength. A Christian activist gave her false papers, and Lee lived illegally for four years in eastern China, despite regular roundups by Chinese authorities to force North Koreans back across the border.

She finally joined the long smuggling route, an "underground railway" for North Koreans, that took her to Mongolia and eventually to South Korea. Only when she was safe did she throw away the rat poison she planned to take if she was forced back to North Korea again.

Lee arrived in Seoul to find physical comfort, but also referred to the loneliness that many other defectors describe when they finally reach safety. After two months in South Korea's reeducation camp, the government gave her an apartment and a monthly stipend. She is trying to learn secretarial skills and is contemplating life in a society where her accent and communist education set her apart.

"I thought when I came to South Korea everything would be happy. But I realize that's not true. I didn't know where to go or how to behave," she said.

She is sending money back through the smugglers' route so her mother and siblings can buy food in North Korea. "If my family is hurt, all my hope would be gone," she said.

"To be honest, sometimes I try to forget that happened to me," she said. "Now I realize how revolting it was. There, I was just numb. It's human to try to forget it."

[By Doug Struck, Washington Post]

Saturday, October 29, 2005

China urged to release North Korean refugees

Families and human-right activists demonstrated near the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, calling for the release of South Koreans detained in China for helping North Korean refugee seekers.

Some 200 protesters also urged China to free all North Koreans caught in China after their failed attempts to seek asylum and stop forcible repatriation of detained North Koreans to their communist homeland.

They chanted slogans, "Let North Koreans go!" "Stop repatriation of North Korean refugees!"

Chinese police posing as smugglers arrested 48 North Korean refugees shortly before they were to be secretly ferried out of China and taken to South Korea and Japan.

The Chinese government confirmed it had also detained two South Koreans suspected of helping the North Koreans find asylum. They included a freelance photographer working for The New York Times.

Beijing's Foreign Ministry said the two South Koreans were suspected of "smuggling or organizing smuggling and are now on criminal detention."

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to be hiding in China after leaving their poverty-stricken homeland in search of food or to avoid political repression. More than 1,200 defected to South Korea last year.

Most North Korean asylum seekers travel to South Korea by way of China, which shares a long land border with North Korea, because the inter-Korean land border is the world's most heavily armed boundary.

Beijing, which views North Koreans fleeing to China as economic migrants and not refugees, has in the past sent back asylum seekers to the North, where it is feared they face persecution.

"Beijing should not ignore the plight of the North Korean refuge seekers stranded in China, because Beijing is a proud signatory of the U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951," Tim Peters, director of Helping Hands Korean, said in an address. "We should make more efforts to meet the urgent needs of North Koreans in crisis."

Seoul-based activist Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who organized the January attempt for North Koreans to sneak into South Korea by boat, vowed to step up efforts to rescue North Korean refugee-seekers.

"We will travel soon to the border village of Panmunjom as part of efforts to highlight the plight of North Koreans," Vollertsen told United Press International.

Vollertsen and other human right activists also blamed the South Korean government for not doing enough to bring in North Korean refugee seekers in China.

Seoul's government has maintained a low profile about the stream of North Korean refugees for fear of possible friction with the Pyongyang regime.

[From article by John-Heon Lee, UPI]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

China and N.Korea intensifiy crackdown on Christian refugees

Chi Ha-yang, an elderly North Korean widow, waited for night to fall before meeting secretly with three friends and sneaking across the North Korean border to China.

As the widow of a senior North Korean official, Chi Ha-yang witnessed brutality against Christians and watched the bloody execution of seven believers. "Like the crucifixion, their hands were pierced through with iron wire," she recalled.

After Chi Ha-yang became a Christian, authorities beat her publicly. At one beating, Chi Ha-yang "prayed to God in my heart for help." Suddenly the lights went out, and the man who was beating her stopped.

At age 76 Chi Ha-yang commanded respect for her many years as a Christian in North Korea. Some call her a "mother of the North Korea church." Ill and hoping to tell others of Christ's work in North Korea, Ha-yang believed it was time to escape.

"Go," she prodded her friends as they hurried through the darkness. They were headed toward a secret crossing point along the 350-mile northern border separating North Korea from Manchuria.

Chi Ha-yang was one of hundreds of North Koreans during the past year to make the even more hazardous passage from China to South Korea.

Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician whose book Diary of a Mad Place is about his recent work inside North Korea, told Christianity Today that he hopes the surge of refugees will bring about a political crisis within North Korea, triggering major reform.

There is "electric fear," Vollertsen said. "North Korea is afraid of a Romanian-style collapse." Rebellion in Romania toppled its communist regime in 1989, and ruler Nicolae Ceausescu was convicted of genocide and executed.

Several years ago, North Korea gave Vollertsen a medal for his medical service. But Vollertsen knew he had to do more than care for broken bodies. He saw the devastating effects that famine and endless repression had on 22 million North Koreans, whom he has described as depressed.

"I tried my own personal engagement policy," he said. As a physician for leaders of the regime, he had great access but little effect. The regime kicked him out for speaking out on human rights.

Vollertsen said North Korea's situation might be compared to East Germany in 1989. After East Germany allowed its citizens to travel freely, its government voted for reunification less than a year later.

With a goal of stimulating dramatic change, Vollertsen has helped North Korean refugees seek asylum inside Western embassies in China. This activity has earned him accolades from members of the U.S. Congress and condemnation from Chinese communists. At least 60 North Koreans this year have escaped using the embassy-asylum route.

Communist-controlled media in China blame Christians, among others, for making the overall refugee problem worse by both helping North Koreans get into China and helping them escape China to freedom.

Presbyterian missionary Sue Kinsler was there. "The 10-year-olds looked 7 or 8. The 3- or 4-year-olds looked 2 or 3," she said. Some children swam across the Chinese border at the polluted Tumen River, then collapsed and died.

Communist leaders in China and North Korea, historically close allies, have intensified their crackdown on refugees and those who aid them. In late 2001, Chinese border guards arrested Chun Ki-won, the South Korean Christian who helped an estimated 170 North Koreans escape to South Korea beginning in 1999.

His arrest touched off a global campaign to secure his release. Americans Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea and Doug Shin buttonholed political leaders in Washington and around the world to pressure the Chinese to liberate Chun. The Chinese government finally freed the 46-year-old, who had spent eight months in jail and had paid a heavy fine.

"I found my mission when I first saw North Korean women in China who had been captured by sexual traffickers," Chun said in an interview with CT.

In an interview after her arrival in South Korea, 76-year-old Chi Ha-yang said she wants to help believers still inside North Korea.

[From an article written by Tony Carnes in Christianity Today]

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

U.S. diplomacy route on North Korea

A Bush administration official described the situation in North Korea as brutality and deprivation that "offend our notions of human decency," which Washington is trying to redress through diplomatic means.

Last year, about 300,000 North Koreans fled their starving homeland for China, where they live in fear of being turned in to authorities and repatriated. Those who are repatriated may face execution.

Fifty-seven percent of the North Korean population is malnourished, including 45 percent of children under age 5, said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., in an opening speech.

A particularly telling statistic is that Pyongyang has lowered the height requirement for military conscripts to 4 feet 2 inches from 4 feet 11 inches, Brownback said.

In North Korea's notorious prison camps, nearly one-fourth of the population dies each year because of hardships such as hard labor, torture and withheld food, said Brownback, who has been active in developing U.S. policy on North Korea and North Korean refugees.

"Human life is treated far too cheap by the government of North Korea," he said.

"How many more testimonies, heart-wrenching testimonies, heart-breaking testimonies, mind-boggling testimonies before we act, as Senator Brownback has said, in a way that is commensurate with the gravity and the nightmarish quality of what is going on in North Korea?" asked Tim Peters, an American who is the founder of a Seoul-based famine relief program, Helping Hands Korea.

Another activist, German physician Norbert Vollertsen, first went to North Korea as a volunteer doctor. For his work, the North Korean government awarded him the Friendship Medal, which gave him a rare inside look into the country.

"The military elite they are enjoying banquets and fashionable nightclubs; in contrast was the lifestyle of the ordinary people and children who are dying, starving," Vollertsen said.

Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, cited a recent Human Rights Watch report on North Korea, which said newcomers to North Korean prison camps are first taught how to bury the corpses.

In a camp of 300 prisoners, 10 people die each day. One such camp, Camp 22, contains relatives of those who defected from North Korea.

James R. Lilley, a resident fellow at AEI and a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said the United States has leverage in its dealings with Pyongyang because North Korea desperately needs the food and oil supplies it gets from Washington.

"We want them (North Koreans) to have food, and at the same time we want them to have freedom," Lorne W. Craner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, told a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute.

[From UPI article written by Carolyn Ayon Lee]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Persecution in North Korea and Sudan

A core group of political and Christian leaders issued a "Statement of Conscience" that singles out Sudan and North Korea as the worst violators of human rights.

The torment "suffered by faith communities of Sudan and North Korea may be more brutal, more systematic, more deliberate, more implacable and more purely genocidal than those taking place anywhere in the world today," according to the statement supported by some 150 church, think-tank, and political leaders.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) told the thought-shapers, government officials and clergy, including a bishop from Sudan and a woman tortured in a North Korean labor camp, that since the first summit in 1996 concern for religious persecution has moved from a hotel conference hall to Capitol Hill.

"We ask people to pray," Brownback said. "It has to happen in the heavenlies before it can happen in the U.S. Congress."

The afternoon summit, sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House, supports President Bush's characterization of Sudan as "monstrous" and his inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil."

It calls for the administration to press North Korea to allow more aid from nongovernmental organizations, as well as greater resources generally for reporting abuses in all problem countries. The statement also vowed "never to commit the sin of silence" in the face of abuses.
Norbert Vollertsen, who as a visiting physician has documented numerous North Korean abuses, told those in attendance that the country's regime is an updated composite of the world's worst dictators. The government of Kim Jong-il views Christianity as the worst kind of subversion of the communist state, he said.

Missionary pastor Tim Peters, who has helped run an underground railway through which North Koreans escape the country, added: "The fury with which North Korea meets Christianity is hard for us [in the West] to understand."

Commission Chairman Michael Young told the second summit that North Korea is systematically starving 5 million of its own people—to little international criticism.

Michael Horowitz, who directs the conservative Hudson Institute's Project for International Religious Liberty, said from his seat that as a Jew he was amazed at the unified effort of Christians in the past six years.

"You don't know your own power," Horowitz said. "For God's sake, keep it up. You're really doing God's work not only for your own people, but for mine and everyone else's."

[From article by Jeff M. Sellers, Christianity Today]

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Refugee's perilous odyssey from North Korea

In an upscale coffee shop, Choi Kyong-chol clutches his knapsack. All his worldly valuables are in the small black bag.

A North Korean refugee – a farmer who escaped to Seoul this year – Mr. Choi is still a bit dazed by the big city. A year ago, Choi lived on a pig farm in north China with his family, also escapees from hunger in North Korea. But one day, Chinese police came to the family hut, handcuffed the five Chois, and sent them home.

Arriving at a North Korean jail, they were made to stand and sit until Choi's mother fainted. Weeks later, they were released, "dumped into an empty field," as Choi says. Immediately they plotted to go back to China. "We had no money, no food, no future."

On March 14, 2002 Choi and 24 other North Koreans rushed into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing, as TV cameras rolled. That dash marked the first sight, for much of the world, of a special problem – runaways from the world's last Stalinist regime – that until recently had not even been identified.

Since the mid-1990s, North Korean runaways have been voiceless and largely powerless pawns in a geopolitical conundrum: China doesn't especially want them, and the North will punish them if they return. They live in a silent daily struggle along China's border, where crossing a small river is a ticket to a new world, albeit one where they might be arrested.

Since the Spanish Embassy event, the policing of illegal Koreans in China has intensified. Along the border, China has heightened a two-year crackdown – with stepped-up house-to-house searches, leaflets warning villagers not to help, and bounties paid to informants, according to seven recent escapees interviewed for this report.

China has been cracking down on the underground railroad – run mostly by Christians from South Korea.

"About 95 percent of the people over there helping are Christians," says one such worker. "We act in cells. We don't want to compromise each other."

According to Tim Peters, an aid worker in Seoul, some Chinese make up to 2,500 yuan ($400), to identify any of the missionaries who troll the border.

The character of the escapees from the North is changing, according to refugee interviews and expert testimony. Those crossing are no longer simply looking for food. Flows have thickened to include teachers, doctors, and other members of middle and upper classes. The numbers have grown so high that, for the most part, the North does not take harsh actions on first time offenders sent back, considered "betrayers" of the state.But for second- or third-time offenders returned to the North, penalties include beatings, torture, or prison camp – – especially if they were seeking to live in the South, or say they were helped by Christians.

Choi and his sister dug a hole at the foot of a hill outside one border town, where they could sleep. Choi soon felt he needed to move away from the border, deeper into China, but travel was difficult. "You need to travel, and you need to go by bus or train. But you get nervous when you go to buy a ticket. The number of checkpoints is higher. The police stop and search buses, and then there is nothing you can do. You are caught."

Before he could go, Choi got word that his father was impatient and wanted to leave North Korea. To this day, he hasn't seen them.

Eventually Choi met a railroad worker in China. Choi will say nothing about these contacts, other than that they took place through someone who knew his father.

Over the course of several "interviews," Choi says he was asked by railroad workers what he wanted. He said, "freedom." Did he want to escape? "Yes." He was then asked how he felt about a risky plan to go to South Korea by way of Beijing. He said, "I feel doomed anyway. I can sit here and be doomed, or I can go forward. I want to go forward."

Until Choi got to Beijing, he says, he didn't really understand the plan, did not realize that Norbert Vollertsen, part of an international group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), had cased the German Embassy the night before and found the security too tight. Not until the Koreans rushed the Spanish Embassy, their alternate plan, did Choi grasp what he was part of.

[From an article by Robert Marquand in The Christian Science Monitor]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Babies Killed In North Korean Prison Camps, Observers Say

Forced abortion and infanticide are common practices inside North Korea's notorious prison camps, according to Christian and human rights campaigners working in the region.

Defectors to South Korea who served terms in the North's 10 or 11 large prison camps say guards force inmates to kill newborns themselves by smothering them with plastic sheeting or leaving them out in the cold to die.In cases when pregnancy is observed, miscarriages are induced through beatings, forced periods of exertion or other methods, they report.

A series of interviews carried out in South Korea and China by the Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers led the group to conclude that the killing of babies is a standard practice going back decades, HRWF's Nadia Milanova said in response to queries."They lay on their stomachs until they died. Otherwise their noses would be blocked with vinyl to induce instant death ... their bodies would be thrown to animals to be gorged."

A woman defector described watching a doctor kill two live babies by piercing their skulls with surgical scissors.

Another interviewee described pregnant women being thrown against a wall to induce an abortion, adding that heavily-pregnant women were taken away and never seen again.

A former guard said a woman with a child by a prison guard was allegedly cut open and the baby removed and killed, before the woman was herself killed.

Tim Peters, an American Christian aid worker contacted in Korea, said that a trusted colleague of his had done "extensive research on the baby killing issue ... and has found it to be all too true."

When a South Korean paper published allegations of forced abortion and infanticide in North Korean "concentration camps", Pyongyang's official Central News Agency angrily denounced the charges as a "plot deliberately hatched ... to hurl mud at the North."

Source: ,from article by Patrick Goodenough

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ton-a-Month Club Tackles North Korean Starvation

Tim Peters knows that the ton of grain he buys and sends to North Korea each month won’t feed many of the starving people there.

Peters said Pyongyang officials often stop aid workers from getting food to where it’s needed. That angers him.

"Millions of people could be dying," he said. "I can’t sit by and not help just because there’s a chance that some of the food will be diverted."

So Peters has started a grassroots push, the Ton-a-Month Club, to help the country’s relief agencies trying to get food to the hungry. His aim is to get members to buy one ton of food each month to send to the North.

Peters takes $200 a month from his family budget to help. With each shipment of grain, "I also send a prayer so it will fall into the right hands," he said.

He said his club has only a handful of members, but they manage to send four tons of food to North Korea each month. "We’re just scratching the surface, but even a little bit can go a long way," he said.

He added that he hopes the Ton-a-Month Club’s effort will encourage others to help.
The Buddhist Sharing Movement, based in Seoul, said in a report that since August 1995, the famine has killed about three million North Koreans.

Peters said his efforts are not a political statement. "I just felt a personal responsibility to see if I could alleviate some of the suffering. There are children, elderly and handicapped people dying on the vine up there," he said. "We must do something to help them."

[Excerpts of article by Louis Arana, Stars and Stripes Seoul Bureau]

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Little by Little, Quietly, and Heart by Heart

Andrea and Fee, the headliners at a benefit concert held at the Chosun Hotel, slowly packed up and prepared to head back to their hometown in Ireland.

The money raised on this day was sent to the 'Ton-a-Month' (TAM) Club and also the 'Helping Hands Korea' (HHK). The TAM was created in order to provide aid for people starving in North Korea and HHK was established to help former North Koreans residing in China. These two NGOs are based in Seoul and represent the fruits of Tim Peters' efforts.

"Fortunately, because of the donations of facilities by the Chosun Hotel and the services provided by Andrea and Fee, we were able to put on the concert with minimal costs, which was extremely satisfying," said Mr. Peters who sponsored the charity concert.

This is the fifth charity session that Mr. Peters has held on behalf of the people starving in North Korea. With the money raised from these functions, Mr. Peters has sent corn and flour to North Korea via a third country. "One ton of corn can be sent to North Korea with 200,000 Korean won," he said.

"We should do our best to help the people who seem unable to help themselves," he said when asked why he participated in charity activities to benefit N. Koreans. Last month Mr. Peters visited the border between China and North Korea. He saw the images of suffering and hardship, which he said, will forever be ingrained in his mind.

Mr. Peters first arrived in Korea in May of 1975. He met his wife, Kim Sun-mi. He promises that in the future "little by little, quietly, and heart by heart" he will offer an outstretched hand to the starving people in North Korea and the former North Koreans in China.

[From article by Kim Miyoung in Chosun Ilbo]

Monday, October 17, 2005

Helping starving North Korean residents is God’s Will

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10)

Tim Peters, 51, who is currently working as an English speechwriter and an adviser at KFI, takes the above passage from the Old Testament as his guiding star in life. Since June 1996, he has been managing a non-government organization called “Ton a Month Club” ( to help the starving North Korean residents. TMC is a kind of a non-profit Christian relief program, which has sent more than 90 tons of food to the North to date. (2000)

It was in May 1996 when he received a revelation from God to carry out relief activities for North Korea. At the time, he had been listening to a speech by Bernard Krisher, 69, a former Newsweek Tokyo bureau chief, at the Seoul Foreign Press Club. During his press conference, Mr. Krisher urged the world to invest an interest in North Korea's state of famine, which at the time had not been made public. After the speech, Peters rushed to the Shilla Hotel where Krisher had been staying and sought advice on giving food aid to the North. He felt “God's revelation” while praying at home with his wife and youngest son several days later, he said.

To preach his gospel, he came to South Korea in May 1975, which had been under the authoritarian rule of former President Park Chung-hee at the time. Unfortunately, the Park Chung-hee government decided that his missionary activities there were inappropriate and forcibly deported him (it was at this time of trial that he married Kim Son-mi, a Korean). He had a passion for Korea, however, and sought various ways for re-entry. In the end, he decided obtaining a visa for a teaching position would be the easiest way to do it. He returned to college, finished the final semester, and acquired a teacher's certificate. He then worked as a teacher in Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and returned to Korea in 1988 when the Roh Tae-woo government lifted him and his wife from a blacklist.

The TMC he founded five years ago collects donations mainly through personal networks and charity concerts. The personal network he refers to is highly simple. “It's better for one thousand persons to donate one dollar each than for one company to give one thousand dollars,” he said. Charity concerts also usually take place at the voluntary participation of the performers, some of which include the charity solo given by the world-famous pianist Sam Rotman and a Korean soprano Chang Son-kyong at the Munhwa Ilbo Hall on November 18, 1999, and the concert by Jerusalem Philharmonic in the Hyatt Hotel Grand Ball Room.

The relief goods TMC sends to North Korea mainly comprise corn and flour, although they also contain clothing and medical supplies. The organization chooses these food items because they have high calories and are less liable than rice to fall into the hands of elite North Koreans, such as party executives and soldiers, Since they are also cheap, TMC can procure them in large quantities. “We can buy one ton of corn in China with 200,000 won ($170),” he explained.

Mostly TMC buys the food supplies from the areas bordering North Korea, such as Dalian, which are then offered to North Korean defectors through reliable ethnic Korean-Chinese. Some of the food is also sent directly to North Korea through ethnic Korean-Chinese who has an access to the North, and the South Korean Red Cross, and Jungto, a Buddhist relief organization for North Korea. He and his wife went to a noodle factory in Najin, North Korea, to directly deliver four tons of flour in June 1999, even though tensions between the two Koreas were running high--a naval skirmish between the North and the South had taken place at the West Sea only a few days before. He also visited to five cities near Yanbian to deliver relief goods last week.

When asked about the regulations China may impose on relief activities carried out in the country, he said, “In view of its relations with North Korea, China has signed an agreement to forcibly repatriate North Korean defectors, rather than granting them a refugee status. Even so, it has not tried to stop humanitarian relief activities.”

Nevertheless, it is possible for China to take some measures for his efforts there, once it officially confirms his relief activities. But he did not seem fazed by the possibility.

"More than three million North Korean residents have died of starvation during the last five years, and the number of North Korean defectors exceed 100,000. As long as this reality prevails, I will go wherever they are," he said. He will do so probably because he wishes to spend himself in behalf of the hungry as written in the New Testament.

By Kang Tae-uk, Newsweek Korea

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Easing the plight of starving North Koreans

Amid the ruins of a bombed-out Chinese railway bridge, 50 meters from the North Korean border, U.S. Christian missionary and Ton-A-Month Club founder Tim Peters catches his first glimpse of Sinuiju. A once bustling industrial town, Sinuiju shows few signs of life. Resembling a ghost town, it bears quiet testimony to the North's moribund economy and chronic fuel shortage.

Along the northern shore, obsolete smokestacks tower over idle factories. Rusted vessels docked along the quay seem barely seaworthy. Peters is here in the northern Chinese city of Dandong, separated from Sinuiju by a 200-meter-wide stretch of the Yalu River, to understand the conditions that have driven over 100,000 North Korean refugees from their famine-ravaged homeland since 1995.

"What really gets me is the silence," he said, peering across the Yalu from a bridge bombed by U.N. forces at the height of the 1950-53 Korean War. "I don't think there's another famine-hit region of the world where millions of people have starved to death with an attitude of...well...almost resignation."

Accompanied by a South Korean volunteer, Suh Min-woo, the missionary finds few people willing to discuss the northern famine in Dandong's Korea Town, where signs printed in hangul, the Korean alphabet, stand out in streets aglow with Chinese New Year lanterns.

At a kalbi restaurant, one middle-aged patron says it is no longer possible for North Koreans to visit ethnic Korean relatives in Dandong. This year, the Korean-Chinese had to make the trek across the northern border.

In a coffee shop designed to resemble a traditional Korean thatched hut, another ethnic Korean comments that his once fluid business dealings with North Koreans have broken down since the North's "difficulties." Most inquiries, however, are met with a perturbed silence, Suh says. "At first, restaurant owners and customers seem happy to converse with someone in Korean," she says. "But the moment you mention North Korean refugees, people become defensive and suspicious, saying 'I don't know anything about that.’”

Peters and Suh are prepared for such responses. Before their fact-finding trip to China, they had read accounts of Chinese government crackdowns on refugees, spurred by pressure from Pyongyang. International media reports also indicated that security on the North Korean side of the border had tightened significantly, following a brief period of relative laxity at the height of the famine.

Supporting these reports was a conversation Peters had in another northern Chinese town with a Chinese humanitarian worker, who recounted a horror story told to her by a recent North Korean refugee.

"This Chinese volunteer was literally in tears as she recounted the story of a North Korean woman who had barely escaped repatriation by Chinese troops," Peters says. "This (North Korean) woman's sister had apparently fallen behind, was accosted by Chinese troops and marched to the northern border. From a distance, the woman had watched in agony as her sister was literally dragged across the frontier by a metal hook the northern border guards had shoved through her jaw."

Sickened by the "medieval" quality of reported atrocities against North Koreans seeking to flee their famine-ravaged country, Peters stresses that he is no apologist for the policies of the North Korean regime.

He does, however, take issue with the still widely held view that food assistance to the North translates into support for the North Korean military and the northern regime itself.

"I'm completely aware of the pitfalls of just blindly handing over money to the North Korean government," he says. "But there are avenues where people can feel assured that most of what they're giving is going where they intended."

Engaged in relief and missionary work in Yokohama, Japan, when the famine in North Korea broke out, Peters recognized its severity not long after he and his family decided to relocate to Korea in early 1996. "It all began with a little prayer meeting with my wife, Sun-mi, and youngest son, Christopher," he recalls. "We saw statistics indicated that perhaps one million had died so far and it was eye-opening. An intriguing Bible verse came to our attention at this time. Proverbs 25:21 says, 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he's thirsty, give him something to drink.' To us, this was a big green light for gathering relief for the North."

The Ton-A-Month Club marked its debut by participating in goodwill marches dedicated to North Korean famine relief, which were organized by Alan Biggs, now chief of the Seoul International Rescue Corps, a Red Cross unit composed of expatriates and Korean volunteers.
The TAMC has since organized musical benefits at the Inter-continental Hotel, choreographed by Peters' eighteen-year-old daughter, Rachel, and set up teen Christmas performances at Santa's Village at Yongsan Army Base to draw donations.

But in its first two years, the organization faced a formidable obstacle in the policies of the South Korean government. The Kim Young-sam administration not only banned direct aid to the North, but also implied that the bulk of food assistance would be diverted to the North Korean military.

Concerned about potential difficulties with the government, Peters turned to acceptable channels to assist famine victims, including donations to the Korea National Red Cross. The group later developed a cooperative relationship with the Join Together Society, a Buddhist activist group that had established a food production plant in the North's Rajin-Sonbong Free Economic Zone.

Since 1996, the Ton-A-Month Club has shipped 38 tons of food to North Korea and gathered 8 million won in direct donations.

"This may not seem like a lot," Peters says. "But if you consider that we are one missionary family with a few helpers, it's an example of what ordinary people can do with God's help if they put their minds to it. Imagine the impact if hundreds or thousands of families or individuals did the same thing."

Peters says that he hopes to visit soon the border region along the Tumen River in northeastern China, where the bulk of North Korean refugees have taken flight.

The Korea Herald -- March 12, 1999

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Prisoner Nation

Writes Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, "A human tragedy of hellish dimensions continues in North Korea. For nearly a decade, an unknown number of North Koreans, possibly as many as 300,000, have defected to China. These brave men, women and children risk their lives to flee the mass starvation and brutal oppression brought upon them by Kim Jong Il’s Stalinist regime. Sadly, Beijing’s official policy has been, and remains, to arrest the refugees and forcibly return them to North Korea, where they face imprisonment, torture and in some cases execution."

Read a two part article by Dr. Vollertsen, an East German physician who worked in North Korean hospitals from July 1999 through to December 2000.