I sometimes get e-mails from a liberal NGO, asking me to support its North Korean family reunion project. These always leave me feeling divided, because I know for a fact that some of those involved are completely sincere in their concern for the people in North and their relatives on the outside. But then, I see how those reunions always turn out, and I wonder whether as a North Korean, I wouldn’t consider something like this to be more torture than it’s worth, emotionally.
Not that the decision is likely theirs. Take the case of Kim Yong-nam. In 1978, when he was still a boy, Kim disappeared from a beach near his home town in North Cholla province. Kim later married Megumi Yokota, whom the North Koreans abducted from Japan when she was just 13, and whom the North Koreans claim committed suicide in 1994. The North Koreans even provided a set of ashes, but when the Japanese tested them, they turned out not to be hers. But listen to what Mr. Kim, ever under the Dear Leader’s paternal watch, is telling us:
“I went on a raft to avoid fighting with companions that I went to the beach with,” Mr. Kim said. “After drifting in the water for a while, I was rescued by a North Korean ship.”
He said he learned later that the ship had docked at Nampo, on the peninsula’s Yellow Sea coast, and decided to stay there because of the hospitality of the North Koreans. “For the first few days, I couldn’t eat or sleep, but the North Koreans’ friendly and special treatment comforted me,” he said. “After learning that I could study without paying tuition in the North, I thought I would study there and return later.”
All stated without apparent irony, which isn’t an approved state of mind in North Korea. Still, there are a few odd things about this, such as the question of why Mr. Kim never wrote home to tell mom of his wondrous times in the Land of Friendly and Special Treatment. I have helpfully attached a map showing that busy North Korean shipping lane — fenced off by several small South Korean islands, yet — from where Mr. Kim was “rescued.”
There’s one other little inconsistency in there:
Mr. Kim’s explanation contradicts the statement of a North Korean agent who was captured in the South in 1997. Kim Gwang-hyeon told authorities here that he had kidnapped Mr. Kim as he waited for a ship to pick him up after completing a mission here. “At the time, the boy was crying on the beach alone after being bullied by his friends,” the North Korean spy said.
Korean reporters noted some of these inconsistencies, despite being required to submit their questions in writing in advance. The American media briefly reported this story as the case of a kidnapped South Korean “reunited” with his family, without mentioning the circumstances or duration of what no honest person should ever call a “reunion.”
Mr. Kim’s ventriloquized body also had harsh words for the government of Japan, which was so untrusting as to conduct a DNA test on the “remains” of his wife, Megumi Yokota. One of Megumi’s kidnappers, you may recall, was actually caught in South Korea. Before Kim Dae Jung let him go, he described how Megumi, then 13, sat in a room deep in the hold of the ship that carried her to servitude in a finishing school for spies, and how she sobbed and cried for her mother. Today, there’s an acclaimed feature film about Megumi’s story in the festival circuit.
It’s difficult to even imagine the inner pain Kim Yong-nam must have experienced, seeing his mother without the chance to really tell her of his emotions at seeing her again after all these years, forced to deliver this fraudulent accounting of the fate of a woman who had been his wife and the mother of his child. In the midst of the latest Tokdo distraction, Megumi’s mother, Sakie, met Yong-Nam’s mother and offered kind and moving words about her son-in-law:
“I am so lucky to have a South Korean son-in-law, not a North Korean. I am so happy that I can hope that our families may meet one another again. He said the couple “loved each other and had such a beautiful child” — Hae-gyong, who North Korea says is their daughter – “a healthy and sweet girl. I thank Young-nam for taking such good care of my granddaughter and I thank you, too.
Sakie also met with President Bush in April. North Korea refuses to let Yong-Nam and Megumi’s daughter leave North Korea or speak freely with anyone.
Kim Yong-Nam’s body was abducted nearly two decades ago, and it is being abducted away from Kumgang again, without a peep from the government whose duty it is to protect him. It’s no less sad to see how his mind and soul have been abducted, too.
Update: More at the Daily NK.