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A North Korean Family Defects to Japan

Posted June. 04, 2007 06:16,   


Four North Korean family members fled from North Korea by sailing about 900 kilometers in a small wooden boat from Chungjin, North Korea to the port of Fukaura in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture.

This is the second time that a family defected from North Korea to Japan by sailing across the East Sea after Kim Man-chul’s family did it back in 1987.

The Japanese media yesterday reported that Japanese authorities were investigating a man in his late 50s, a woman in her early 60s and two men presumed to be in their late 20s and 30s. The four all have North Korean national identification cards, and the man in his late 50 and his two sons are said to be a fisherman and students, respectively.

The Japanese authorities noted, “It is unlikely that these four are North Korean agents (spies). There are almost certainly defectors.”

The four took a small wooden boat lacking a cabin and even a cover and departed from Chongjin port at night on May 28 in search of freedom. Six days later, at 4:10 a.m. on June 2, they were spotted by a fisherman off the coast of Fukaura.

The four North Koreans said to the police, “We escaped from North Korea due to poor living conditions. We headed toward Japan since Korea maintains a heavy security presence on the border.”

The family initially headed toward Nigata port, which is where the North’s ship Mangyongbong occasionally berths, but arrived at Fukaura after being pushed by the Tsushima current.

The wooden boat they used is 7.3 meters long, 1.8 meters wide, and has two small engines.

Sausages, two sacks carrying drinks, several wooden oars, clothing, and a small bottle containing a liquid presumed to be poison were found on the boat.

The family said, “We planned to poison ourselves if we were captured by North Korean security forces.”

The family told Japanese authorities that they wanted to go to South Korea.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Japanese government will issue six-month valid temporary landing permission visas to the four once they are classified as defectors. The Japanese government has also decided to promptly proceed with formal negotiations through diplomatic channels if the family says they want to go to a third country, including South Korea.

After meeting with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso at the Lotte Hotel on Jeju Island yesterday, Korea’s Foreign Minister Song Min-soon also stated, “The two sides agreed that the issue of defectors should be dealt with in accordance with humanitarian principles and their wishes,” suggesting that the family could come to Korea as long as they keep hoping so.

When the family of Kim Man-chul fled from North Korea, the Japanese government sent them to Taiwan first and let Kim’s family settle in Korea later.

Meanwhile, in and out of the Japanese government, there is widespread concern that this incident could open a floodgate of North Korean defectors to Japan.