Three heavyweight “counsellors”, diplomats from the North Korean embassy, shouted and swore at the three young North Koreans apprehended in Laos. They talked about “the party’s generous forgiveness” one moment and threatened violent retribution for “traitors” the next.
Afterwards, Choi Hyok went from being a confident youth, so sharp that he had picked up the complex Lao language in jail and conversed in it with his captors, to a trembling, frightened boy crying for his mother.
He clung to his sister, who developed constant stomach pains and could not shake off the flu. To add to the fear of the older girl, Choi Hyang-mi, the strain accentuated her angina pains.
The next time a Christian activist was allowed to see the trio, he was horrified. “They were cast down and gloomy. Before, they always asked for pork and beef but they lost their appetites,” he said. His group went public with the children’s plight.
The South Korean ambassador in Vientiane is now negotiating with the authorities. The Lao foreign ministry says there will be no demands for ransom. The North Korean embassy did not answer phone calls and a guard slammed its gates on inquirers.
The unlucky three remain in their hot, fetid jail, clinging to their dreams - Choi Hyok and his sister want to be doctors, while Choi Hyang-mi just yearns to find her family. The negotiations continue.
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, The Sunday Times]