Friday, April 21, 2006

Bush meeting Hu: North Korean refugees

One corner of the U.S. government has worked to put on the table China's treatment of desperate North Koreans who slip across the border. They have been aided in that quest by a growing movement of Christian activists who lately have adopted North Korea as a cause, much as they earlier did Sudan, and pushed Congress into passing legislation intended to make human rights in Asia's last Stalinist outpost a higher U.S. priority.

"We just feel this is what we're commanded to do," said Deborah Fikes, executive director of the Midland Ministerial Alliance from the president's Texas hometown. "If you're a follower of Christ, this should be one of your number one priorities, speaking out for the oppressed, and I can't think of anybody more oppressed than the North Koreans."

Administration officials said Bush feels strongly about the situation. "He's taken a very personal interest and a fairly significant interest in the issue of human rights," said Jay Lefkowitz, whom Bush appointed last year as a special envoy for human rights in North Korea. "He fundamentally believes the character of the North Korean regime is defined by its human rights conduct."

Bush has expressed visceral distaste for North Korea's autocratic leader, Kim Jong Il, calling him a "tyrant" who runs "concentration camps" and saying he "loathes" him for the way he treats his people. Last year, Bush invited to the White House defector Kang Chol Hwan after reading his memoir, "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," recounting 10 years of eating rats in a North Korean prison.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said: "The real question is whether the president [will] actually say anything to Hu.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Baker, Washington Post]

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