Jang Guk Cheol, a tour guide, left North Korea because he thought the country had no future. During the famine, he recalls his aging parents were forced to eat grass. In August 1999, he swam across the Tumen River into China, where he stayed for six months, working at a restaurant in exchange for food and shelter.
With the help of missionaries from Korea and from ethnic Koreans living in China, Jang made his way first to Vietnam, then to Cambodia, but he says the South Korean Embassy in neither country would help him. Finally, he went to Thailand and on to Seoul after the South Korean Embassy finally assisted him in August 2000, a year after he left.
He praised President Bush for describing North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" but has little regard for the six-party talks, involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas. Each country has different interests, and North Korea demands too much, he said.
"I personally think this dialogue is kind of a formal show to maintain the international order," he said, adding that he thinks the United States has gone too soft -- a sentiment other defectors share.
Jang also criticized South Korea's policy of engagement -- financial aid and business projects with North Korea. "Maybe it looks humane, that we're helping people. But the assets go to the military," he said. "They should stop."
[Excerpt of an article by Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle]