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Death, Terror In N. Korea Gulag

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 759 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... DEATH, TERROR IN N. KOREA GULAG By Robert Windrem
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2003
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      By Robert Windrem
      Lisa Myers, Rich Gardella and Judy Augsberger of NBC News and Michael Moran
      of MSNBC.com contributed to this report.
      January 15, 2003


      In the far north of North Korea, in remote locations not far from the
      borders with China and Russia, a gulag not unlike the worst labor camps
      built by Mao and Stalin in the last century holds some 200,000 men, women
      and children accused of political crimes. A month-long investigation by NBC
      News, including interviews with former prisoners, guards and U.S. and South
      Korean officials, revealed the horrifying conditions these people must
      endure -- conditions that shock even those North Koreans accustomed to the
      near-famine conditions of Kim Jong Il's realm.
      "It's one of the worst, if not the worst situation -- human rights abuse
      situation -- in the world today," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who held
      hearings on the camps last year. "There are very few places that could
      compete with the level of depravity, the harshness of this regime in North
      Korea toward its own people."

      Satellite photos provided by DigitalGlobe confirm the existence of the
      camps, and interviews with those who have been there and with U.S. officials
      who study the North suggest Brownback's assessment may be conservative.

      Among NBC News' findings:

      - At one camp, Camp 22 in Haengyong, some 50,000 prisoners toil each day in
      conditions that U.S. officials and former inmates say results in the death
      of 20 percent to 25 percent of the prison population every year.

      - Products made by prison laborers may wind up on U.S. store shelves, having
      been "washed" first through Chinese companies that serve as intermediaries.
      Entire families, including grandchildren, are incarcerated for even the most
      bland political statements.

      - Forced abortions are carried out on pregnant women so that another
      generation of political dissidents will be "eradicated."

      - Inmates are used as human guinea pigs for testing biological and chemical
      agents, according to both former inmates and U.S. officials.

      Efforts by MSNBC.com to reach North Korean officials were unsuccessful.
      Messages left at the office of North Korea's permanent representative to the
      United Nations went unanswered.

      Eung Soo Han, a press officer at South Korea's U.N. consulate, said: "It is
      a very unfortunate situation, and our hearts go out to those who suffer. We
      hope North Korea will open up its country, and become more actively involved
      with the international community in order for the North Korean people to be
      lifted out of their difficult situation."

      NBC's investigation revealed that North Korea's State Security Agency
      maintains a dozen political prisons and about 30 forced labor and labor
      education camps, mainly in remote areas. The worst are in the country's far
      Northeast. Some of them are gargantuan: At least two of the camps, Haengyong
      and Huaong, are larger in area than the District of Columbia, with Huaong
      being three times the size of the U.S. capital district.

      Satellite photos provided by DigitalGlobe show several of the camps,
      including the notorious Haengyong, for the first time outside official
      circles. Plainly visible are acres upon acres of barracks, laid out in
      regimented military style. Surrounding each of them is 10-foot-high
      barbed-wire fencing along with land mines and man traps. There is even a
      battery of anti-aircraft guns to prevent a liberation by airborne troops.

      Ahn Myong Chol, a guard at the camp (which is sometimes known as Hoeryong)
      from 1987 through 1994, examined the satellite photos of Camp 22 for NBC
      News. They were taken in April, eight years after he left. But he says
      little has changed. He was able to pick out the family quarters for
      prisoners, the work areas, the propaganda buildings.

      Looking at the imagery, Ahn noted what happened in each building:

      "This is the detention center," he said. "If someone goes inside this
      building, in three months he will be dead or disabled for life. In this
      corner they decided about the executions, who to execute and whether to make
      it public.

      "This is the Kim Il Sung institute, a movie house for officers. Here is
      watchdog training. And guard training ground."
      Pointing to another spot, he said: "This is the garbage pond where the two
      kids were killed when guard kicked them in pond."

      Another satellite photo shows a coal mine at the Chungbong camp where
      prisoners are worked to exhaustion in a giant pit.

      All of North Korea is a gulag," said one senior U.S. official, noting that
      as many as 2 million people have died of starvation while Kim has amassed
      the world's largest collection of Daffy Duck cartoons. "It's just that these
      people [in the camps] are treated the worst. No one knows for sure how many
      people are in the camps, but 200,000 is consistent with our best guess.

      "We don't have a breakdown, but there are large numbers of both women and

      It is the widespread jailing of political prisoners' families that makes
      North Korea unique, according to human rights advocates.

      Under a directive issued by Kim's father, North Korea's founder, Kim Il
      Sung, three generations of a dissident's family can be jailed simply on the
      basis of a denunciation.

      NBC News interviewed two former prisoners and a former guard about
      conditions in the camps. The three spent their time at different camps.
      Their litany of camp brutalities is unmatched anywhere in the world, say
      human rights activists.

      "Listening to their stories, it's horrific," said David Hawk, a veteran
      human rights campaigner and a consultant for the U.S. Committee for Human
      Rights in North Korea. Hawk has interviewed many former prisoners in Seoul.

      "It's hard to do more than one or two a day because they're just so painful
      to hear: horrific mistreatment -- all sorts of suffering, beatings to death,

      Kang Chol-Hwan is now a journalist with Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's most
      important newspaper. His recent book, "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," is the
      first memoir of a North Korean political prisoner. For nearly a decade, he
      was imprisoned because his grandfather had made complimentary statements
      about Japanese capitalism. He was a 9-year-old when he arrived at the Yodok
      camp. His grandfather was never seen again, and prison conditions killed his

      "When I was 10 years old," Kang recalled, "We were put to work digging clay
      and constructing a building. And there were dozens of kids, and while
      digging the ground, it collapsed. And they died. And the bodies were crushed
      flat. And they buried the kids secretly, without showing their parents, even
      though the parents came."

      The system appears to draw no distinction between those accused of the crime
      and their family members.

      Soon Ok Lee, imprisoned for seven years at a camp near Kaechon in Pyungbuk
      province, described how the female relatives of male prisoners were treated.

      "I was in prison from 1987 till January 1993," she told NBC News in Seoul,
      where she now lives. "[The women] were forced to abort their children. They
      put salty water into the pregnant women's womb with a large syringe, in
      order to kill the baby even when the woman was 8 months or 9 months

      And then, from time to time there a living infant is delivered. And then if
      someone delivers a live infant, then the guards kick the bloody baby and
      kill it. And I saw an infant who was crying with pain. I have to express
      this in words, that I witnessed such an inhumane hell."

      Soon also spoke about the use of prisoners as guinea pigs, which a senior
      U.S. official describes as "very plausible. We have heard similar reports."

      "I saw so many poor victims," she said. "Hundreds of people became victims
      of biochemical testing. I was imprisoned in 1987 and during the years of
      1988 through '93, when I was released, I saw the research supervisors --
      they were enjoying the effect of biochemical weapons, effective beyond their
      expectations -- they were saying they were successful."

      She tearfully described how in one instance about 50 inmates were taken to
      an auditorium and given a piece of boiled cabbage to eat. Within a half
      hour, they began vomiting blood and quickly died.

      "I saw that in 20 or 30 minutes they died like this in that place. Looking
      at that scene, I lost my mind. Was this reality or a nightmare? And then I
      screamed and was sent out of the auditorium."

      Prison guard Ahn's memories are, like the others', nothing short of
      gruesome. Every day, he said there were beatings and deaths.

      "I heard many times that eyeballs were taken out by beating," he recalled.
      "And I saw that by beating the person the muscle was damaged and the bone
      was exposed, outside, and they put salt on the wounded part. At the
      beginning I was frightened when I witnessed it, but it was repeated again
      and again, so my feelings were paralyzed."

      Moreover, said Ahn, beating and killing prisoners was not only tolerated, it
      was encouraged and even rewarded.

      "They trained me not to treat the prisoners as human beings. If someone is
      against socialism, if someone tries to escape from prison, then kill him,"
      Ahn said. "If there's a record of killing any escapee then the guard will be
      entitled to study in the college. Because of that some guards kill innocent

      President Bush told author and Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob
      Woodward last year that he was well aware of the camps and the atrocities.
      That, officials say, partly explains why Bush insisted on North Korea's
      inclusion in the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.

      "I loathe Kim Jong Il," Bush told Woodward during an interview for the
      author's book "Bush at War." "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy
      because he is starving his people. And I have seen intelligence of these
      prison camps -- they're huge -- that he uses to break up families and to
      torture people."

      Brownback, a senator with a reputation as a human rights advocate, thinks
      that the prison camps and abuses have for too long taken a back seat to
      nuclear arms and other Korean issues.

      "It seems that what happened is that there got to be a complex set of
      issues, and people said, 'Well OK, it's about our relationship with China,
      it's about the Korean Peninsula, it's about this militaristic regime in
      North Korea that we don't want to press too much because they may march
      across the border into South Korea."

      Brownback says the North's nuclear program, its missile tests and generally
      unpredictable behavior has blurred a critical issue:

      "I think people just got paralyzed to really put a focus on the human face
      of this suffering," he said.


      Soon Ok Lee:
      Kang Chol Hwan:

      Ahn Myong Chol:


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