Monday, June 11, 2007

Survivors reveal horror of North Korean concentration camps

A survivor of a North Korean concentration camp have spoken out about the grim conditions in the gulag where inmates are left to die in tiny cells, in the latest accounts to shed light on the human rights atrocities carried out in the world's most isolated country.

A 27-year-old North Korean, Kim Eun Chul, was one of a group of seven fleeing their country in 1999 who were intercepted in Russia after they scrambled through barbed wire on the border with China. The Russians sent [he and another female refugee] back to China despite a UN decision to grant them refugee status. China, which remains North Korea's staunchest ally, allowed the seven to be handed back to North Korea which subsequently informed the UN that the majority had been returned to their homes and factory jobs.

But it was a lie. Instead, they faced torture and imprisonment for "betraying their homeland" by trying to flee the famine-hit North Korean "socialist paradise" in search of food. least five of the seven were dispatched to North Korea's Camp Number 15, known as Yodok in the West, where inmates labour 15 hours or more a day on meagre rations for such deeds as criticising the government or trying to escape because of famine, Mr Kim told the International Herald Tribune.

Kim Eun Chul, who now sports a crewcut and has pierced ears, said he spent three years at Yodok, and escaped to South Korea last year. His scalp, knees and arms still bear the scars of his prison experience.

Before being sent to Yodok, he said he was tortured at the National Security Agency, the government's intelligence and secret police organ. He was forced to kneel on a hot steel plate, and when he twitched, he was punished by kicks and punches. "After giving me nothing to eat for three days, they had my family bring some food," he said. "While I was watching, they fed it to another inmate. I wanted to tear the man apart and eat him."

[Excerpt of an article by Anne Penketh, The Independent]

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