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`78-day protest greatly changed attitudes toward defectors`

`78-day protest greatly changed attitudes toward defectors`

Posted May. 01, 2012 07:37,   


“This site before Okin Church will become a sacred place of inter-Korean reunification, until the moment that the two Koreas reunite. This will become a power station that sends a ray of hope to the North Korean people.”

Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party said this at 2 p.m. Monday while standing in front of the church across the Chinese Embassy in central Seoul. She was attending a sit-in rally against the repatriation of North Korean defectors in China, which entered its 78th day since beginning Feb. 13.

Having gone on an 11-day hunger strike at great risk to her health and volunteering to serve as a "godmother" to defectors, Park set plans on and spearheaded the protest from the very beginning.

“When I sat down in front of the Chinese Embassy with a sense of despair amid strong winds in the freezing winter weather in February, I never expected so many people would support it,” she said, adding, “The biggest achievement is that China is gradually changing.”

Over the 78-day rally, many changes have occurred in the attitude toward the defectors` plight in South Korea and elsewhere. More than 220,000 people in Korea and abroad participated in a signature collection campaign against China’s deportation of defectors. Rallies held in 53 cities worldwide April 10 also demanded that Beijing stop repatriating escapees from the North.

In an interview with The Dong-A Ilbo, Park said Monday, “For the month of April, China did not repatriate a single North Korean defector. This is truly a significant change,” adding, “Now the (South) Korean government, rather than civic groups or the international community, should maintain this change as a permanent phenomenon.”

“The South Korean government should genuinely realize how its ‘silent diplomacy’ has harmed the life and safety of North Korean defectors thus far,” Park said. “Only when the government consistently and clearly expresses its intent can we advance human rights in the North.”

Suzanne Scholte, chief of the Virginia-based Defense Forum Foundation who attended the rally in Seoul, said, “Since Rep. Park started the rally, many people have begun to pay attention to the repatriation of North Korean defectors for the first time,” adding, “I am truly gratefully to Park for everything she has done.”

Park, who ended her activities as a lawmaker last Saturday, will return to Dongguk University in Seoul as professor. She plans to continue efforts to improve the human rights of defectors by using her personal network going forward.

“First off, I will establish an alternative school that offers one-on-one customized education to North Korean children and teenagers who have come to the South, and create a nursery house to care for South Korean prisoners of war,” she said, adding, “To this end, I will establish a foundation.”

She plans to spend 10 million won (9,000 U.S. dollars) she earned from the Korea Women Leaders Award, an honor she received April 20. More than 100 founding members of the foundation, including Shim Hwa-jin, president of Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, Kim Gil-ja, honorary president of Kyungin Women’s College, former Vice Unification Minister Kim Seok-woo and Kim Byeong-iil, adviser to South Korea`s leading law firm Kim & Chang, will also join hands to contribute through finance and skills.

Park is leaving the site of the struggle, but the movement to stop the forced repatriation of defectors will continue. The Save My North Korean Friends Network, a coalition of civic groups, said, “We will continue to hold rallies by inheriting the will of Rep. Park until all North Korean defectors are safe.”

Because of the noise from megaphones have irritated nearby residents over the 78-day rally and led to civil complaints filed with the city, the protesters will no longer use microphones and amplifiers from now on.

One civic group member said, “We will continue two assemblies at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily, and will hold candlelight rallies in silence.”

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