Friday, May 05, 2006

Refugee Kim Myong Suk’s Escape

Kim told her husband she was planning to leave China. Their relationship had deteriorated since he learned she could not conceive, but he agreed to accompany Kim to the Laotian border. That was critical; it meant there was no need for safe houses, since the authorities would see just an ordinary couple traveling through the country. "My husband accompanying me gave [the trip] stability," Kim says. "I am very grateful to him for that."

On December 9, they boarded a train in Mudanjiang, bound for Harbin and eventually Kunming, in Yunnan province. When they arrived in the south, they were greeted by a man named Jiang, a broker with whom Hite had worked before. The organizers had paid him 500 yuan ($62.50) upfront; Jiang promptly asked for 500 yuan more, then took Kim and her husband to a hotel where they stayed for three days. Then Jiang put them on a bus for a 20-hour trip to a town close by the Laotian border.

Kim was now just four hours from Laos. She thanked her husband, said goodbye, and climbed into a taxi that headed for the heavily guarded border, deep in the mountainous terrain where Laos, China and Burma meet. Kim and her guide got out at a remote spot—again, the activists won't say exactly where—and walked into Laos undetected. For two hours they trekked through the mountains until they met a car, which took them to Vientiane, where Hite was waiting.

On December 24, Kim called her mother in Seoul, and Hite called Kim Sang Hun and Tim Peters. For Peters, the call from Hite was "the best Christmas present we could have gotten."

Then it was on to Bangkok. On March 26, Kim flew to Seoul, for a tearful reunion with her mother, before being sent to a debriefing center, where she will answer questions from South Korean intelligence agents and learn what to expect in her new life.

[Excerpted from a TIME magazine article, “Running Out of the Darkness”]

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