Wednesday, February 21, 2007

North Korean Defectors' divorce a hot issue in Koreas

Song will soon be able to get a divorce. The question is, will his wife ever find out? Song is a 49-year-old defector from North Korea who left a wife and two children behind him, took up with a Russian mother of three and brought them to South Korea. But so impenetrable is the iron curtain between the two Koreas that there's no way of communicating. There are no phone, mail or Internet connections.

Petitioners would have to make their divorce suit known on the Internet, and that, defectors fear, would make it easier for North Korean intelligence to track them. Even now, living a humble life as a gas station attendant, Song is so wary of spies that he won't let his surname be published.

Divorce for defectors has become a hot issue in South Korea as a growing number of North Koreans flee south, usually via China, to escape poverty and political repression. More than have 9,600 entered the country since the 1950-53 Korean War, and have automatically become South Korean citizens.

Song says he lost touch with his family in 1998 after he went to work as a North Korean guest laborer at a Russian lumber mill. He says he fled the camp to avoid punishment for criticizing North Korea's communist government over unpaid salaries, and was sheltered by Nazezda Tsydenova, an ethnic Mongolian Russian.

He entered South Korea in 2003 with Tsydenova, who harbored him during his years as a fugitive in Russia. A divorcee, she had sold her house and two cows to pay their travel expenses. Settling in hasn't been easy. Tsydenova entered the country on a tourist visa and has worked illegally as a janitor to boost Song's monthly $960 wage.

[Excerpt of an AP article by Bo-Mi Lim]

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