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Nuclear neighbor

"Nuclear neighbor" Continued...

Issue: "Demsnami," Nov. 4, 2006

Seoul is also not limiting activities of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a cooperative manufacturing site of 13 South Korean companies that employs thousands of North Koreans. Most of their $57 monthly paychecks go to the Korean Workers Party, some Seoul officials have said, bolstering Kim.

For eight years, Seoul has pursued "Sunshine Policy" engagement with the North. Conservatives blame Roh for the latest setbacks, but his government is now locked in "engagement for engagement's sake," Noland said, and the policy is unlikely to change.

In the meantime, North Korean motives are ever inscrutable. South of the Yalu River, the military uses a border fence and a dusty highway with surveillance posts and stone-lined bunkers to watch China more closely. North of the river, some Dandong residents poke fun at the staring North Korean soldiers, but both sides are uneasy.

China syndrome

Refugee helper tells of the plight of North Koreans who would rather die than return home

North Korea's nuclear crises may come and go, but one nightmare is ever-present: the plight of the nation's refugees in China. Philip Buck knows about them firsthand. For 10 years, the 65-year-old Rev. Buck has helped more than 1,000 North Koreans flee through China to countries where they can win asylum. The underground railroad is necessary because China repatriates the refugees it captures, who often return to executions or prison camps for leaving North Korea.

In May 2005, Chinese authorities arrested Buck in Yanji, Jilin Province, for helping North Koreans cross into Mongolia. With pressure from Washington and advocacy groups, they released him this August after a 15-month detention. He spoke about his experience publicly for the first time Oct. 20 on Capitol Hill.

In Yanji, Buck gave instructions by cell phone to a group of 14 North Koreans trekking into Mongolia. An informant tipped off the police, and only four made it to safety. Police arrested the other 10 and Buck within two days.

While officers interrogated Buck about how he organized the escape, he shot back with questions of his own, worried about the 10. He heard that upon her arrest, one woman in the group drew out a concealed knife and tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrists. For her, death was better than going home.

She survived, and Chinese officials sent her back with the rest of the group, made up of three men, six women, and one boy. Though Buck knows some are alive, he suspects they will die in prison from starvation or torture. The boy had already suffered much in China: When Buck met him, traffickers had sold his mother into slavery.

By contrast, Buck's prison stay was relatively mild. He said he suffered no ill treatment and had his own bed. At 6 a.m. every morning he exercised, running and jumping on the spot while shouting four phrases over and over that roused fellow inmates: "God-I believe-Amen-Hallelujah." It was shorthand for "I'm calling my Father and I believe God will release me today."

Release came Aug. 21, when the Chinese deported the Korean-born Buck back to the United States. He thinks the West can only solve North Korea's nuclear threat by forcing the fall of Kim Jong Il's regime-and then helping China and South Korea cope with an influx of refugees.

Buck cannot return to China, he says, but he has no intention of ceasing his refugee work. Spurring him on are thoughts of the 10 who never made it. He told WORLD, "I feel guilty, but they're the same as me and they're human beings. They didn't commit any crime. . . . I wanted to go to [North Korea] and die for them."

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