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[Newsmaker] Families of Lee Dae-jun, Otto Warmbier meet

The families of Otto Warmbier and Lee Dae-jun met on Saturday. From left: Lee Rae-jin, Cindy and Fred Warmbier, and Rep. Ha Tae-kyung. (courtesy of Lee)
The families of Otto Warmbier and Lee Dae-jun met on Saturday. From left: Lee Rae-jin, Cindy and Fred Warmbier, and Rep. Ha Tae-kyung. (courtesy of Lee)

The families of Lee Dae-jun, a South Korean government official shot dead by North Korean troops at sea in 2020, and Otto Warmbier, a US college student who died after North Korea’s detainment left him in a coma in 2017, met on Saturday.

Lee Rae-jin, the older brother of the South Korean official, told The Korea Herald that Fred and Cindy Warmbier, parents of the American student, got together for the first time at the couple’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I have been wanting to meet them, and it’s been an emotional day,” he said.

Lee said he would join the Warmbiers’ efforts to go after North Korea’s assets and properties and force its regime to take responsibility through litigation.

He said they got around to talking about identifying the size and status of North Korea’s financial assets and businesses together, sharing them with other victims of North Korea’s human rights abuses, and then seeking legal routes to seize or shut them down.

“It’s inspiring what the Warmbier family has been doing to make North Korea pay for what it’s done, and I intend to do the same,” he said. “North Korea continues to inflict tragedies upon family after family, which is why it is so important to make sure they know we are not going to let them get away it.”

In December 2018, the Warmbiers won a wrongful death suit at a Washington court, which ordered North Korea to pay more than $500 million in damages. Part of the money they were awarded in January was from assets seized from a banking corporation found to be connected to the North Korean government.

Fred Warmbier and Lee Rae-jin shake hands at Northern Kentucky International Airport. (courtesy of Lee)
Fred Warmbier and Lee Rae-jin shake hands at Northern Kentucky International Airport. (courtesy of Lee)
Lee Rae-jin visited the Oak Hill cemetery where Otto Warmbier was laid to rest. (courtesy of Lee)
Lee Rae-jin visited the Oak Hill cemetery where Otto Warmbier was laid to rest. (courtesy of Lee)

Also on Saturday Lee visited the Oak Hill cemetery in Cincinnati where the 22-year-old was laid to rest to pay his respects.

“I don’t think it’s possible to stop grieving. We are not going to give up fighting,” he said.

Shortly after his brother died, Lee said he wished to reach out to the Warmbiers for wisdom and cooperation in putting pressure on North Korea.

The Warmbiers responded with an open letter vowing solidarity and offering support. “We are the same victims of the same lies and horrific abuses of the Kim regime and know that it is important to stand up to them,” they said in the letter.

Ahead of Saturday’s meeting, Fred Warmbier said in exchanges with The Korea Herald that he and his wife, Cindy, “look forward to meeting Mr. Lee” and that they “support him and are proud of him.”

Lee left for the US on Sept. 13 with a delegation of South Korean lawmakers for the 18th general meeting of the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights.

Speaking at the general meeting, Lee asked for help from the United Nations and governments in holding North Korea accountable so that “no other family is put through pain like this.”

On Friday, he sent a public message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un outside the office of the Permanent Mission of North Korea to the United Nations in New York on Friday, in which he asked for a chance to visit the site where his brother died.

Lee said his family is finally holding a funeral for his brother on Thursday, on the second anniversary of his death, which had been put off in the hopes of possibly retrieving his remains.

The chairperson of the international parliamentarians’ coalition Rep. Ha Tae-keung was also at Saturday’s meeting between the two families. Ha led the ruling People Power Party’s fact-finding task force on the killing of the South Korean government official.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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