Friday, May 15, 2009

North Korea and its two hostage U.S. journalists

It's believed that Laura Ling and Euna Lee of the San Francisco based Current TV were nabbed by North Korean border guards in the early morning hours after allegedly straying past the North Korean border [with China] an unmarked halfway point on the frozen river. It's not a good idea "to behave like it's the Belgium-French border" says Andre Lankov, a North Korea expert.

China has a large population of North Korean exiles and refugees. The northeastern Chinese city of Yanji sits a quick 30 minute drive from the border of North Korea, and is one of the best posts for trying to glean the goings-on in that eremitic totalitarian state.

Many of the refugees get help from human rights groups. One such activist based in Seoul, Tim Peters, who has visited this region in the past, thinks the two American TV journalists were trying to report on the plight of stateless orphans, the offspring of trafficked North Korean women repatriated back to the North. "It's a mushrooming problem," says Peters, who notes that authorities have been making it harder for foreign journalists to cover the refugee issue there since the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. He and others like him counsel journalists about the perils of interviewing defectors and navigating the border. People "unfamiliar with the terrain" could have a difficult time understanding the frontier's exact location," he explains. In the wake of this latest incident, "everyone is going to have to hunker down for now."

America has extricated its citizens from North Korea in the past, so Ling and Lee should make it home eventually. One thing is for sure: their misadventure will make it an even more daunting task for journalists to learn about the lives of ordinary North Koreans.


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