Things are heating up among the countries involved in the March 2009 abduction of two American journalists along the China-North Korean border.
In a related development, North Korea announced the details of the women’s “crimes” on June 16, which coincided with the opening of the U.S.-South Korea summit meeting. In keeping this diplomatic card up its sleeve, North Korea has shown its intention to pressure the Americans.
On the same day, the Korean Central News Agency announced that it was reporting the “crimes of the American women” so that they might be as widely known as possible, and that “the court found that [the American journalists] fabricated their slanderous video footage and distorted the human rights situation in North Korea, and that foreign governments’ attempts to isolate and suppress North Korea were behind their criminal actions”.
In a June 18 interview Pastor Chun Ki-Won of Durihana Mission, a South Korean church involved in the incident, spoke to the Korean newspaper Joong Ang Ilbo from the standpoint of helping North Korean defectors in the area.
The biggest question about this whole incident is how the American journalists were arrested by the North Korean security forces and transported to Pyongyang within a week. They were arrested in Wolchon, an out-of-the-way village some distance from Tumen city. So it is unlikely that they could have been arrested unless they were either continuously followed, or someone had knowledge of their actions beforehand.
If it had been just a coincidence, the situation could have been resolved on the spot by paying a fine (bribe). This is the normal way to resolve problems in the area and would have taken, at most, 24 hours.
The fact that the American journalists were transferred immediately to custody in Pyongyang suggests that someone at the National Secret Police level knew beforehand about their activities along the border.
The women’s guide, Kim Son Chul, is a South Korean living in China who was introduced by Pastor Chun. After the incident, Kim (the guide) was arrested by the Chinese authorities.
It is unthinkable, however, to rely on a South Korean guide to know the local geography and safety issues along the border. According to our information, there was another, genuine, guide. But for some reason, nothing has been mentioned about Kim Gwan Chol, an ethnic Korean Chinese member of the Ma Peh church in Tumen city, who is very knowledgeable about the border area and about both the Chinese and the North Korean security forces.
According to talk in the area, Gwan Chol and Pastor Chun had a close relationship. Moreover, Gwan Chol would probably not have acted as a guide unless requested to do so by Pastor Chun. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the two journalists’ plan of action came from Pastor Chun himself.
Gwan Chol was arrested by the Chinese security forces, and his whereabouts are unknown. No one wants to talk about him, but according to information in the area near the church, he has been sentenced to life in prison. At the same time, however, there is also information that he was working for the North Korean security service.
But something just doesn’t add up. It is hard to imagine that Gwan Chol, who is just a local informant, could have put together the plan to abduct the American journalists. This incident was not mere coincidence—it appears to have been well-planned and methodical.
We cannot do more than speculate about what kind of dealings are going on between North Korean officials and informants. But for a North Korea hungry for tools to use as bargaining chips against the U.S., the compensation for such a valuable bargaining chip must have been considerable.
The most striking feature of this story is the many problems that mushroomed after Current TV, where the journalists worked, became involved with Pastor Chun.
This attempt to take video footage has resulted in people in the area being interrogated and North Korean defectors being hunted down. LFNKR has also suffered grave damage in the backwash.
Meanwhile, tensions in the area continue.