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South Korean Abductee Describes 30 Years in the North​
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2016-01-20 17:07:44
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South Korean Abductee Describes 30 Years in the North​

LEE Jae-kun 

Former abducted Fishermen, defector

I want to briefly mention about the reason why I was deported to North Korea and the plight of North Korean people, though I'm neither well educated nor eloquent. 

The ship I went on board was a kind of deep-sea fishing vessel. It sailed on 10 April 1970, heading to Nam-jin port after leaving In-cheon port. We were informed from other vessels that rich fishery was found near Shandong. The captain of our ship suggested to us that we'd better sail to Shandong and go back to In-cheon by way of Yon-cheon. We could unexpectedly catch large amount of fish. As rare fish such as jewfish and skate were caught, we worked there for another fifteen days. After we filled thousands boxes with fish, we headed to Back-ryong-do from which we've sailed to southeast for ten days with our web dragged until we found a fire tower. When working there for couple of days, we were approached by an armada, number 1110, that asked us why we were there. When we told them we were far from the demarcation line, they warned us where we were was so dangerous that we'd better withdraw our vessel to the south, demanding some boxes of fish. We gave them five boxes and went on fishing, separated from other vessels. 

In the evening on April 28, we were between Peak-ryong-do and Yon-pyong-do. The clock was about to show 12: 40 when our ship was sailing to southeast. Lying on the bed, I got a hunch that there might something odd happen. Lots of things going on my head, I tossed and turned. No sooner had I began to sleep than I heard a loud noise. I woke up and got my head protruded to see what was happening, finding that 10 soldiers were boarding our ship. I’ve thought unwittingly that South shore patrols are investing our ship to warn us not to approach near fish torpedo until we saw them fire blank ammunitions. They shouted us to go down to the floor, but we remained still. We couldn’t but follow what they ordered when some of them rushed to us and fired several blank ammunitions again, reviling us as saying, ‘Hold still, SOB.’ All of us were gathered in a deck cabin with our ship dragged by two patrol boats. Our ship couldn’t sail as fast as she was expected as we have our web dangling from the edge of her. Coming back to us, they asked us who intended not to obey them and fired at us again. After they locked us in a cabin, they cut the string, linking the web, and sailed at a high speed, 30 knot per hour, to the Seng-ri-do. Surprisingly, it took only one and a half hour to get there. South armada began to announce that it was against the law, but unfortunately it was too late. 

Deported to the North, we disembarked right after writing down our names on a list and piling up our packages and blankets. When seeing several tractors harrowing the ground, we asked them what they were for. They explained that all the farmers in the North could farm easily with machinery, which we regarded as that they were propagandizing. On the way to Hea-ju, we saw students, standing in a line, wave flags and shout ‘Hurrah.’ When we reached Hea-ju, we went to a bath-house where we were told to take off all our clothes, watches and rings. Although we wore jackets and shoes just like those who lived a poor life in the South Korea at that time, all the people around bowed to us and wondered whether we were from abroad. All the North Korean people were wearing clothes clean but ragged. After bathing, we demanded to hand our watches and rings to us but they only replied that they would give our belongings back to us later. They took our rings with them and gave us our watches. After that, we went through investigations for 5 to 10 hours a day. Questions we got were such that where we were headed, whom we saw and where we’ve turned our direction in the sea. One week later we were transported to Hea-ju Security Department, where we were announced that our ship was a spy boat, commanded by the South armada from the sea and In-cheon port. They also warned us not to feel sorry for the fact that all of us would be subject to the law of North Korea. We didn’t take it serious because we, as common sailors, couldn’t imagine that we would be regarded as spies. We went to Pyong-Yang where we were also treated as spies according to their previous forgery. We were forced to confess our espionage activities but our captain wouldn’t listen at all. Actually there was no reason to acquiesce to their suggestion. 

We continuously told them we were far from spies and we didn’t get any notice from the navy. They put every effort to persuade our captain by way of offering him with liquor or a woman to entice him. If Kim, Young-uk, captain of our ship, decided to comply with their request, all of us, including our ship, couldn’t be safely sent back to South Korea. Among the sailors, seven people, who seemed to be robust and astute, ended up being detained in North Korea. I was among those victims and escaped from North Korea in 1998, 30 years later. 

Above all, those who came from the South were discriminated against others in North Korea. My son, for example, has got the first prize in his class for three times and he could be expected to enter what school he wanted according to the general principle. When asked, he said that he wanted to enter maritime college on the grounds that I had been a sailor before and he’d like to travel around to see and hear more of life. He applied to the college in Na-jin where he was rejected. Unsatisfied with the result, I went to the officer who was in charge of admission department to know why my son was denied. I said, “I’ve worked for my son to succeed in his life. How can you be so cruel? Please take me into account for we are working as party liners.” He replied, however, “We are not as equal as you think. Did you come from the South?” I answered,” Yes.” He said,” What about your wife?” “She came from China”, said I. “Those who came from other countries are not admitted to enter. Only those who are children of central governmental officials, director or head of department are allowed to enter here, although they are not smart at all,” said the officer. He recommended instead other universities such as Kim,Il-sung University or Kwang-san University if only I would persist to have my son enter university. I could nothing but to give up only because of the admission rule of the school 

Coming back home, I asked my son if he would go to Kim,Il-sung University. “Under such circumstances, I could not but see gloomy prospects in my days to come and things would not change at all even though I could get diploma from Kim,Il-sung University,” replied my son. He finally decided to work in the factory with me, giving up all hope. Those who came from the North can do everything they want to the extent that their ability allows in South Korea, but for those from the South, the same thing doesn’t happen in North Korea. 
Unlike us, in terms of Dong-jin-ho, another ship that has been deported to the North, the captain made a false statement that they entered North Korea for the purpose of doing espionage activities. Watching the TV, I thought they must have been insane. All the crews of Don-jin-ho were doomed to never return to South Korea. It shows us clears that the basic intention of North Korean government is nothing but snatching the ship and the people in need by making a frame-up show. 

From the first day when I had been placed to the work place, I’ve been watched by 6 to 7 people in the factory, military camp, police station, security department…etc. All the watchdogs would tail me wherever I went. They would not slacken the tight rope of surveillance on me even when I went to a restroom. Sometimes I found some guards tried to overhear every word I spoke, hiding under a cornstalk in the back yard. It’s beyond my description how hard the life in the North was to endure. 

I’m not the only one who is discriminated against others in North Korea. Those whose father had been rich in the past or those who agitated for a reform against the regime were looked down upon. Their children couldn’t dream to enter a college and were under constant surveillance. In South Korea, for example, students who joined a demonstration used to be arrested by the police, whereas, in North Korea, all the relatives who are unrelated to the rally are to be driven to the prisons’ camp. 

I think it is egregious for them to round up all the naive children to prison’s camp where is notorious for their right abuse. I witnessed a captive S.K. soldier who allegedly came from Chung-cheong province disappeared one night because he once boasted that he had lived well in the past. The man was arrested by guards who had waited him in front of his house at dawn, and where he has been deported has not known yet. His belongings were cleared away the next day, let alone his family. 

Q: As you said you are a partisan, how did you get the license? 

A: I didn't undergo torture. North Korean government detained me for a special purpose. Among the seven detainees are high school graduates and middle school dropouts. As all of us graduated elementary school, we at least knew how to cope with occasions. North Korean government used to send such people to correspondence office for military unification. I was trained as a student for 3 years in Central political school run by North Korean workers' party. On graduation after years of doing this or that, I found that I failed to remain in the North and South correspondence office because I was not a stubborn idealist. Four out of seven people remained in the correspondence office. One of them is Kang, Byong-il, who is now in the central party. 

I worked at the harbor, constructing vessels. People there arranged marriage, houses, and housewares, in the hope that I could be a spy if only I could change to be a lunatic idealist. They kept on watching me, visiting me more than ten times to talk me into going with them. Parking their cars in front of my house, they were about to drive me off if I have no physical and mental problem. AS I continuously make troubles, they finally decided that I was not yet prepared to be an enthusiastic partisan and leaved me alone. Their desire to use me in one way or another, prompted them to affiliate me to the Workers’ Party. I became a member of Workers’ Party in 1986. I have been in Correspondence office under Central Party for three months, where 53 abducted fishermen were. All of us were dry-boned after days of eating corn-soup, but we were fed with rice and meat for three months before we went back to our home. Besides we were provided with clothes for wives and kids. Party executives told us, “It is you who hew out your fortune. Then why you are going out to cause troubles? Why you get into a fistfight instead of working? Finally they determined that there’s little possibility of our brainwashing. However, we argued, “What’s the use of being obedient, under the current situation that we can’t be admitted by the party?” On hearing our complaints, they changed their attitude to accept us first and then find out whether we can serve them well or not. I joined the party as a candidate in 1986 and became an official party member in 1987. I was visited by party executives for three times. Sometimes I was not in good shape and I beat a manager of a factory in a fight. Either by becoming older or by food aggravation, I wound up living without any visit from the party. 

Q: How was the education system in North Korea? 

A: Education system of North Korea is disappointing. Lots of students graduate high school without knowing even alphabet. When it comes to under graduates, most of them are not fluent in daily conversation. How can it be possible? The faults should be attributed to the fact that North Korean government has too much emphasized on idolization of “Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.” Two out of four hours of class is dealing with stories of Kim Il-sung and his son. Subjects such as history, math and Koreans are secondary. Students in the3rd grade of people’s school should work on farms in spring. They used to spend one month in corn transplanting in spring, and in harvesting the yield of beans and sheaf of rice in autumn. Middle and high school students are mobilized for three to four months a year. Students are also reserved to social work such as cleaning streets. Undergraduates are required to have training in guide troop, which lasts six months. Most classes are done outside the school by participating in two to three months of rice-planting, and one month of harvesting crops. The rest of classes are usually full of instruction of superiority and uniqueness of Kim Il-sung and students are deprived of opportunity to learn actual knowledge necessary when they go out into the society. Under these circumstances, North Korean students in their second and third grade start smoking even though it is not permissible in terms of social morality. When I was in the correspondence office I was 28 year of young man, robust and mighty. One day I happened to encounter one student, who looked like 13 or 14 years old, asked me whether he can borrow a match to light up a cigarette. Out of anger I kicked out at him, finding him crying in a ditch. On passing by I heard one man blaming me. Although I explained that I was furious about the misbehavior of the boy and asked if it is right for a young student to say so. Surprisingly the man took up for the boy as saying that I should have not kick him out even in that situation. When adults cannot afford to have cigarettes, youngsters used to smoke, although I don’t know where they could get it. The education level is as low as can be. I worried that North Korea could collide within years or decades to come f the situation would not change. If the security police heard what I was saying, I would end up to be arrested. 

Q: Did you watched by North Korean peoples? 

A: North Korean peoples are worth counting on. We may be misguided that all North Koreans are evil. It is party executives who deserve to blame. People in army, party, security police, executive committee and guide office are the enemies, but ordinary people are friendly enough to openly communicate with each other, confess how their lives are, and share food together. North Korean people also have warm heart to share even a grain of bean, just as South Korea people do. When it comes to party executives, things are different. They are so mean that speak foul languages like “Yi-sae-ki,” and “Jeo-sae-ki,” when calling others. I’ve never seen security policemen use polite expressions like “Yue-bo-si-o” to the old. In party offices party executives, who can’t work without abusive languages, do nothing but shouting loudly, just sitting on a chair. 

Q: Wasn’t there any movement against Kim Il-sung or Kim Jung-il? 

A: I saw nothing. The election of delegates in Supreme Peoples’ Assembly was held in July 25 in 1998. North Korean government thinks much of election. If anyone who conducts misbehavior or disturbs election process, he is unlikely to survive. In 1998, somebody painted portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim, Jung-il black and kicked out flower baskets in an electioneering office. Three similar cases happened in Ham-heung and one in Ham-kyong. If the criminals are detected, they are disappearing under secrecy. 

Seven abductees were left in North Kroea under the purpose of North Korean government who originally thought these South Koreans were useful somehow. Please tell me how they lived in North Korea and what kind of work they did for North Korean government? In other words, how did North Korean government make profis out of using them? 

Among abductees are three who worked in the central party. Kang, Kyoung-il, who is a guidance officer in the correspondence office under central party, is one of them, and two are crossing back and forth the borderline. There was one person who teach South Korean politics in political school They were better off than others, thanks to the special distribution of meat provided by the party. They were allowed to visit relatives and they stored candies, which most North Koreans couldn’t eat. They lived their life as they wished. Among those who went out into the society were one salary man working in the engineering factory in Sariwon, and one surgeon who graduated medical school in Sariwon. These two persons also lived well. The surgeon had no difficulty in living as neighbors would bring something to him as he lived in a rural area where surgical operation is in need. However, they didn’t seem to be free from surveillance. 

When I built a house, I was heard by the party secretary who said, “How come he can build the house even though he has no relatives and nothing at all?” Then he ordered one security police to watch me out and examine my background. As I knew what would happen next, I talked to him after the meeting. I asked him, “Why are you so hard on me? If you do that way, I also have a bone to pick with you. I’ll report everything to the guidance officer of the central party.” I said outspokenly, “You made fund of women by enticing them to help joining the party for several times.” He used to assert that he can give admission to them. The man was almost a sex-crazed person, and many have seen his sexual relationship in the factory. When I told him that I witnessed what he did, he helped me in many ways by sending me engineers and vehicles. It was fortunate for me to attend political school.