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US Presses China on North Korean Refugees


A State Department official says the Bush administration continues to press China for more cooperation on North Korean refugee and human rights issues. Jay Lefkowitz, Special U.S. Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, testified before a congressional panel examining forced abductions of South Korean and Japanese nationals, and the plight of North Korean refugees.

In 2004, Congress unanimously approved the North Korea Human Rights Act, aimed at promoting the improvement of human rights in the North itself, as well as helping protect refugees fleeing oppression in North Korea.

Since then, U.S. lawmakers have held numerous hearings on North Korean human rights problems, and many are not satisfied the Bush administration is doing enough to implement all aspects of the Act.

Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican heads the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee.

"Many in Congress have been dissatisfied with the pace and extent of implementation of that law," said Jim Leach.

Leach and others used a joint hearing to renew appeals that the Bush administration use whatever leverage it has with Beijing to improve the treatment of North Koreans in China.

Appointed last year as Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz says China's forcible repatriations of North Koreans was one issue raised by President Bush in his recent White House meeting with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"The issue of human rights is a national security issue for us and while we have lots of issues to address with North Korea and we have lots of issues to address with China, the prism through which we evaluate their conduct is very much a human rights prism," said Jay Lefkowitz.

Thursday's hearing focused primarily on South Korean and Japanese nationals abducted by the North Korean regime since the 1950s.

Lawmakers heard testimony from Koh Myung Sup, a South Korean fisherman abducted in 1975. Held for more than 30 years in the North before escaping to China in 2005, he tells of hardships in the North.

"Words cannot describe adequately what we had to go through in an attempt just to stay alive," said Koh Myung Sup. "We tried to grow anything on any patch of land that was available. But [there] was way too [little], so we stooped down to digging for any edible roots, or any piece of grass that we [could] find."

Sakie Yakota represents the Organization of Families of Japanese Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.

Her daughter Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977, at the age of 13. In 2002, Pyongyang listed her among eight abductees who had died.

"We cannot recover the lost years for our children but we can rescue the victims that were abducted from many countries of the world and allow them to spend the rest of their life in the lands of freedom," said Sakie Yakota. "We must also not forget the North Korean people who suffered from the atrocities committed by their own government.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il denied the existence of Japanese abductees until 2002, when Pyongyang released a list of 13 individuals. Japanese activists say there are some 450 cases, and the issue is a key point in bilateral negotiations.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith heads the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights.

"Not content with forcing its own citizens to live in hell on earth, the North Korean regime since the end of the Korean war over 50 years ago has engaged in a heartless and an absolutely barbaric policy of kidnapping South Korean and Japanese citizens," said Chris Smith.

On forced abductions, Professor Yoichi Shimada, representing the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, had this harsh criticism of Beijing.

"The Chinese government continues to hunt down hapless North Korean refugees and drive them back to Kim Jong-il's torture chambers," said Yoichi Shimada.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce is dissatisfied with U.S. government implementation of the North Korea Human Rights Act, and efforts with Beijing.

"There is a gathering momentum in this country, between the AFL-CIO and Christian groups and legislators and human rights groups, for trade sanctions against China, unless we get some understanding that there are international norms of civilized behavior," said Ed Royce.

In 2004 Congress directed the president to take steps to expand U.S. government-funded Korean language radio broadcasting to North Korea by the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

U.S. envoy Lefkowitz says access to information is a key lifeline for people suffering in the North.

"Just yesterday, I met with a North Korean defector, a former member of the North Korean military, who told me that he was first inspired to seek freedom and to defect, when as a member of the military he was able clandestinely to access South Korean radio, and he heard the world of difference between the two countries," he said. "Broadcasting made the difference for him, and it can make the difference for countless others."

In addition to South Koreans and Japanese, nationals of 10 other countries, including China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Romania, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Jordan and Lebanon are thought to have been victims of North Korea abductions.

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