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North Korea thinks he brought Covid-19. The South wanted to arrest him

By: New York Occasions | Seoul |

Up to date: July 29, 2020 2:33:59 pm


Individuals make their manner in Kaesong, North Korea July 23, 2019. North Korean chief Kim Jong Un positioned the town of Kaesong close to the border with South Korea beneath whole lockdown after an individual was discovered there with suspected COVID-19 signs, saying “the vicious virus” might have entered the nation, state media reported Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News through AP)

Written by Choe Sang-Hun

Three years in the past, out of labor and hungry, Kim Geum Hyok climbed Mount White Horse close to his North Korean hometown, Kaesong, brooding on the meaninglessness of life.

Not far to the south, throughout a river, the 21-year-old might see high-rise buildings in South Korea, dazzlingly lit up. The sight beckoned him.

After two nights on the mountain, Kim crossed the world’s most closely armed border to get to it. He climbed down, crawled beneath and over layers of barbed-wire fences and made his manner by minefields. On the river’s edge, he hid amongst reeds, improvising a life jacket from washed-up plastic trash. When night time fell, he started to swim.

“I saved swimming towards the sunshine,” Kim stated of his 7 half hours within the water, in an interview {that a} fellow North Korean defector posted on YouTube. “Once I lastly landed on the South Korean facet and walked by reeds and noticed South Korean troopers approaching, I used to be so exhausted I collapsed.”

This month, after three years of life within the South, Kim went again — swimming throughout the identical river he’d crossed in 2017, South Korean officers stated. On Sunday, North Korea stated he might have introduced the coronavirus into the nation for the primary time, and it put Kaesong, Kim’s hometown, beneath lockdown.

On Monday, a police division in South Korea stated that earlier than Kim left, a warrant had been issued for his arrest on a rape accusation.

North Korea didn’t establish Kim in its assertion. However South Korea stated he was the one defector within the South who had gone again to the North this month. The South didn’t disclose his full identify, however it launched sufficient info for reporters to ascertain his identification.

And different defectors who knew him — together with the YouTube interviewer, Kim Jin-ah, a girl from Kaesong — confirmed that it was him, importing photographs of Kim Geum Hyok to social media.

Weeks earlier than his departure, Kim, now 24, gave a number of interviews for Kim Jin-ah’s YouTube channel, Girl From Kaesong, speaking about his lives within the two Koreas. He used an alias and wore sun shades, and in some clips his face had been digitally altered. A lot of what he stated couldn’t be independently verified.

“I as soon as visited his residence in late June and I used to be stunned that it was so naked of furnishings,” Kim Jin-ah stated in a video posted after the person’s return to the North. “Wanting again, I feel he was already getting ready to go away South Korea.”

Even earlier than Kim Geum Hyok went again, his story was an uncommon one. Many of the 33,000 North Korean defectors now dwelling in South Korea bought there by the use of China and Southeast Asia. However some, like Kim, made the harmful determination to cross the inter-Korean border.

For a defector to return, nevertheless — to a desolate economic system and a dictatorship that calls defectors “human scum” — is uncommon. Eleven have executed so up to now 5 years, based on the South’s Unification Ministry. Like many defectors, those that return have typically had bother adjusting to the South’s freewheeling capitalist society.

In one of many YouTube interviews, Kim stated he had misplaced most of his listening to at an early age.

“Due to that, I had problem speaking with folks,” he stated. “I used to be crushed as a result of I used to be informed to carry one factor and introduced one thing else.”

When he was nonetheless a toddler, Kaesong, a metropolis of 300,000, was chosen as the positioning of an industrial park run collectively by the 2 Koreas. It opened in 2004, and Kaesong turned a boomtown, awash with money. Kim’s cousins labored on the park, he stated, and he himself bought eggs and greens.

However 4 years in the past, the South shut down the complicated in a dispute over the North’s nuclear weapons program. The economic system crashed, and Kim, like many others, was quickly out of labor. (Final month, with inter-Korean relations at one other low, the North blew up an workplace in Kaesong that it had collectively operated with the South.)

By the point he climbed Mount White Horse in June of 2017, Kim informed Kim Jin-ah, he “noticed no hope for the longer term, no that means in life, questioning whether or not I ought to proceed to reside or die.” Seeing the South Korean buildings at night time compelled him to “go there and test it out even when that meant my dying,” he stated.

Kim stated he couldn’t take his eyes off South Korean tv throughout his debriefing by officers, which all defectors bear after arriving within the South. Within the North, all TV units are preset to authorities propaganda channels.

Kim settled in Gimpo, a metropolis throughout the Han River from Kaesong. A health care provider corrected the listening to drawback that he had lived with since childhood. He gave Kim Jin-ah no particulars about his situation or the remedy, however he informed her that he cried that day.

He additionally informed her that he missed his mother and father deeply. He had enrolled in a vocational faculty, as a part of the resettlement program that the South provides to defectors. However he stated he stop and located work, hoping to ship cash to his household, as defectors typically do by middlemen in China.

Off digital camera, based on Kim Jin-ah, Kim confided one thing else.

He informed her that he was being investigated by the police as a result of one other defector had accused him of raping her. He informed the YouTube interviewer that he had been so drunk on the night time in query that he couldn’t bear in mind something.

With Kim now within the North, it’s not possible to contact him for remark. However the police in Gimpo confirmed {that a} warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Additionally learn | Defined: Why the US envoy to South Korea has shaved off his moustache

On July 17, officers say, Kim arrived on Ganghwa Island, which can have been the place he first set foot on South Korean soil. At 2:20 a.m. on the 18th, he bought out of a taxi on the island’s northern shore. Round that point, he despatched his final textual content message to Kim Jin-ah.

“I actually didn’t need to lose you since you had been like a giant sister to me,” he wrote, based on Kim Jin-ah, who learn the message on YouTube. “I’ll repay my debt to you regardless of the place I reside, so long as I reside.”

Kim Jin-ah, who was working at a 24-hour comfort retailer when the message arrived, rushed to Kim’s residence as quickly as her shift ended, she informed her viewers.

She realized that he had given up the residence days earlier, reclaiming his deposit. She stated he had additionally bought a used automotive he had borrowed from her, apparently to boost as a lot cash as he might earlier than going dwelling.

South Korean officers concluded that Kim had crossed by crawling by a drain, three ft in diameter, that runs beneath barbed-wire fences on Ganghwa’s north shore. That led him to the Han River, which they consider he swam again throughout.

In a bag close to the drain, officers discovered financial institution receipts indicating that Kim had withdrawn 5 million South Korean received from his account, then transformed most of that to $4,000.

What occurred to Kim after he crossed is unknown. North Korea stated Sunday that he was in quarantine, accusing him of making “the harmful state of affairs in Kaesong Metropolis that will result in a lethal and damaging catastrophe.”

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