[Herald Interview] NK defector anticipates return to Pyongyang before year-end

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Apr 26, 2018 - 16:39
  • Updated : Apr 26, 2018 - 16:39

With the coming inter-Korean summit taking place for the first time in 11 years, North Korean defector Kim Ryon-hui‘s hope is high that she may return to Pyongyang to her family.

“I was so nervous counting the days to the summit. I believe I will be able to go back to Pyongyang within this year, may be in June. Is my anticipation too high?” she said in a phone interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday.

Kim Ryon-hui (Courtesy of Kim Ryon-hui)

Kim, 47, has been demanding repatriation to the North since the day she set foot on the South in 2011.

Formerly a dressmaker in Pyongyang, Kim claims to have come to the South by “mistake.” She said she was lured by a broker in China who said that she could earn a lot of money in a few months in South Korea and return home.

All of her attempts to return lawfully to the North have failed as the South Korean law strictly restricts its citizens from going to North Korea. The two Koreas remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice agreement.

“I heard from some that the Unification Ministry here is talking about organizing a reunion meetings of separated families. I am positive that the joint statement by the leaders of two Koreas will contain something about the reunion meetings,” she said. “And I believe a Red Cross conference will be held soon after Friday’s summit -- and then I will return to Pyongyang by June 15.” The two Koreas issued the June 15 Joint South-North Statement after the first inter-Korean summit between South Korea’s President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in June 2000.

South Korea has been asking for the North’s cooperation in resuming the reunion of families separated during the Korean War, as the last such reunion was held in October 2015. But Pyongyang has rejected the requests, saying that such meetings can only occur if Kim and 12 North Korean waitresses are returned.

In April 2016, the South Korean government announced that 12 North Korean workers from a restaurant in China, run by North Korea, had voluntarily defected. Pyongyang claims that these workers were kidnapped by Seoul’s spy agency. The 12 workers are reported to be still under the protection of the National Intelligence Service.

At Friday’s summit, improving inter-Korean relations is one of the key items on the agenda.

“Nobody seems to know where the 12 workers are and what they are doing. I sincerely wish to go back to Pyongyang with all of them. But the two governments would have negotiated a plan, and if they decide that only I can go, I would have to accept that,” Kim said.

Asked if the South Korean government has officially contacted her, Kim said she expects such actions will come after the two leaders announce the joint-statement on Friday.

By Jo He-rim (