Tuesday, April 24, 2007

At bay: the children who ran from Kim

Three helpless young North Korean escapees stare out from their cell, caught in the middle of a tug of war to decide whether they will be set free or sent home to face deprivation, punishment and the risk of death.

Their photograph and letters smuggled out of prison represent a desperate appeal this weekend to the international community and the United Nations to persuade the government of Laos to reject demands from the North Korean embassy to hand over the children.

The trio - an orphaned brother and sister aged 12 and 13, and a sick girl of 16 - are imprisoned in a crumbling jail in Vientiane, the Lao capital, only a few hundred yards from the Mekong river that divides Laos from Thailand.

“I can hardly sleep for fear,” said Choi Hyang, the 13-year-old girl, in a handwritten note in Korean shown to The Sunday Times. “If you don’t help they’re going to kill us,” her brother, Choi Hyok, wrote. “If we’re sent back we will face certain death,” added Choi Hyang-mi, their teenage companion.

The account of their journey, together with the photos and letters, were provided by refugee activists to The Sunday Times on condition that precise details were not disclosed.
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, The Sunday Times]

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