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Camp for N. Korean Refugees to Be Set Up in Mongolia


A German doctor who has dedicated himself to improving the lives of North Koreans says a camp will be set up in Mongolia to house refugees fleeing from North Korea. During a visit to Washington, Dr. Norbert Vollertsen also announced other plans to help North Koreans.

Dr. Norbert Vollertsen says he will travel soon to Mongolia to open up a refugee camp for North Koreans. In a VOA interview, Dr. Vollertsen did not offer details about the camp. But he said a passenger ship will soon be operating in international waters near North Korea to help others who flee that communist country by boat.

The German medical doctor, who worked in North Korea from 1999 to 2001, now travels around the world publicizing the plight of the North Koreans and urging governments and organizations to help them.

While in North Korea, Dr. Vollertsen had unusual access to places not usually seen by outsiders, and he often speaks of the lack of basic medical supplies and equipment and the widespread food shortages that he saw. He says the government of Kim Jong-il uses food as a weapon against his own people.

"Whenever there are some rumors that people are in opposition, mainly in the northeastern parts of North Korea, which is off limits for U.N. officials, which is off limits for WHO or Red Cross, whenever there are some uprisings, and there were some rumors about uprisings, right after, this whole area, the whole province will not get any more food supply from the government, in order to punish them," said Norbert Vollertsen.

Dr. Vollertsen added that he and his supporters in South Korea and elsewhere are trying to use boat people projects and other refugee programs as a way to destabilize the North Korean government.

One of his plans is to take food and other aid across the border at Panmunjom directly to people inside the North. But he wants to be sure the aid goes to ordinary people, not North Korean soldiers.

"We try to raise a huge aid campaign - food, medicine, fuel, energy, whatever is needed -and we will offer this in Panmunjom - maybe a whole train, thousands of trucks," he said. "And we will blackmail Kim Jong-il: 'Here, you can get it. But only one condition - food inspectors.' And those food inspectors are you and your colleagues - journalists with their TV cameras with their photo cameras, who can take the image of [whether] these children are getting the food, or the military and the elite."

Dr. Vollertsen says he and his colleagues try to smuggle radios and newspapers into North Korea so the people know that outsiders are trying to help and are not hostile, as their government tells them.

Aid workers say during the past decade an estimated 300,000 North Koreans have fled oppression, hunger, and privation in their homeland.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans now live in hiding in China. Many look for temporary work and hope to return home when the situation improves. Others try to make their way to South Korea.

China, which has close ties with Pyongyang, has conducted periodic sweeps of the towns close to the North Korean border and has rounded up and sent back thousands of people. North Koreans who are returned home face an uncertain future, including forced labor, imprisonment or even execution.

During the past year, some North Korean refugees have forced their way into embassies in Beijing or consular offices in other Chinese cities. Dr. Vollertsen and his colleagues have orchestrated some of those asylum attempts. China, under international pressure, has also allowed most of those refugees to be transported to South Korea.

China is a major source of food and fuel aid to North Korea. Last month, Beijing hosted talks between U.S. and North Korean officials on the problem of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Beijing wants the nuclear problem to be resolved peacefully, because it fears war or other instability on the Korean peninsula could prompt even larger refugee flows into China.