Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Long Walk to Freedom

For the Christian activists who staff the Seoul Train, nothing has been more deflating than the actions—or, more precisely, inaction—of the Bush Administration.

The activists viewed Bush as one of their own, a conservative Christian committed to human rights, unafraid to speak the truth about North Korea and its dictator. ("I loathe Kim Jong Il," the President famously said in 2002).

Last year, [Tim Peters] believes, Bush showed his true colors when he spent more time in the Oval Office with Kang Chol Hwan, the author of a shattering memoir of life in the North Korean gulag, than he had with Roh Moo Hyun.

In October of 2004 Congress passed the North Korean Human Rights Act, and in the summer of 2005, Bush appointed Jay Lefkowitz, a former domestic-policy advisor in the White House, as a special envoy to deal specifically with North Korean human-rights issues. Though Bush called for $24 million a year to accept refugees from North Korea and broadcast news and information there, Congress has yet to appropriate any funding to carry out the policies.

TIME has learned, however, that the Administration, under Lefkowitz's prodding, is studying whether the United States might be able to take in a small number of North Korean refugees each year—something which, if it happened, would no doubt anger North Korea.

Bush also raised the plight of North Korean refugees directly with Chinese President Hu Jintao during their meeting in Washington last week, seeking, a White House official said, "a more transparent process" in how Beijing deals with those who come across its border.

It is, says Peters, about time. "Who but [Secretary of State] Condi Rice, an African American, could better understand the absolute necessity of helping these refugees? The underground railroad is named after the network that helped the slaves, for heaven's sake."

[Excerpt from TIME magazine article “Long Walk to Freedom”]

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