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[Newsmaker] Defector fled ‘hopeless life’ in North, possible prosecution in South

A photo of the defector, a man presumed to be in his 20s surnamed Kim, taken when he was in South Korea (Yonhap)
A photo of the defector, a man presumed to be in his 20s surnamed Kim, taken when he was in South Korea (Yonhap)

A North Korean defector believed to have swum across a river to return to North Korea earlier this month spoke of a “hopeless life” in the North and his perilous journey to the South on YouTube last month.

Appearing in a video posted by a channel run by defectors, the man, presumed to be in his 20s and surnamed Kim, shared his story of fleeing the North for a better life in 2017, a year after the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex was closed over Pyongyang’s long-range missile launches.

The factory shutdown dealt an economic blow to him, leaving him with “no hope” and in a “dire condition,” which prompted his defection here, he said.

“I am hard of hearing and as helpless as I was, I chose to climb over a mountain near Kaesong City,” said Kim on the clip. “There, I barely made it through four days, drinking contaminated water and eating bread crumbs before I came to decide to head to the South.”

“I’d rather dare coming here and die than staying stuck and be dead in the North.”

He detailed his defection, saying “After passing through barbed-wire fences, I encountered minefields. I bypassed them and stumbled upon a reed field near the Han River where I stayed hidden for about three hours.”

He said he started swimming afterwards, following the light ahead of him on the southern bank of the river, and cried out for help as he was nearing the South.

He passed out immediately as he pulled himself out of the river to set foot on land. He was escorted by about eight South Korean soldiers at the scene, Kim recalled.

Kim noted that it took him about eight hours of swimming across an inter-Korean river to get here, much more than an hour or so he had originally expected.

The defector said he had hearing difficulties since childhood and had his ears taken cared of in the South. “I was overridden with emotion to tell the story to my mom and brothers,” he said, expressing his gratitude to doctors here.

Police said he was facing a possible prosecution for sexual crime. He was accused of raping a woman on June 12 and was questioned by investigators on June 21. His defection to the North is presumed to have taken place on July 18.

By Choi Si-young (