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Activists Accuse S. Korea  of Covering Up N. Korean Atrocities - 2003-05-16

After meeting with President Bush on Wednesday, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said the two would work closely to solve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. But some activists are upset about what the leaders did not say. They are threatening legal action against the South for preventing defectors from exposing human rights violations in the North.

One activist who spent time as a doctor in North Korea says there is possibly something more disturbing than the terrible human rights situation there.

Dr. Norbert Vollertsen says he is upset that South Korean President Roh, who is a former human rights lawyer, did not publicly condemn the North's treatment of its people after meeting with President Bush. "It's genocide what's going on in North Korea," he said. "And as a former human right lawyer, I should expect even one comment about the situation in North Korea. There was nothing. We were very much disappointed."

He says the South Korean government does not want to publicly recognize the atrocities committed in the North. He accuses the South of trying to silence Northern refugees who have defected to China, Vietnam and other countries.

Dr. Vollertsen is not alone. Michael Horowitz of the Washington research organization, The Hudson Institute, says South Korea does not want the truth to come out because its economy cannot sustain the collapse of the North Korean regime.

At a news conference, the two men stood with a veiled defector who called himself Bok Goo Lee. Mr. Bok described his fear of speaking out about his nine years as a missile scientist in North Korea.

Dr. Vollertsen says what is so appalling is that Mr. Bok is not afraid of North Korean agents or Chinese agents; rather, he is terrified of the South Korean National Intelligence Service, or NIS. He says the NIS threatens refugees, warning them not to tell what they know about the atrocities in the North. "We are arguing about North Korean human right violations, but we will sue the South Korean government because of human right violations," said Norbert Vollertsen. "Because of the treatment of people like this poor guy, who is living under life threats in South Korea."

First secretary at the South Korean Embassy in Washington, Choi Sangchol says the prospective law suit is ridiculous and that the National Intelligence Service has not engaged in any of the activities described.

Seoul's policy is to usually accept North Korean refugees who want to live in the South after defecting through other nearby countries. Once in South Korea, the defectors are put in transition camps to become acclimated to a capitalist society, and then are given some money to start their new lives.

But Mr. Vollertsen says the refugees are brainwashed during their time at the centers.

Mr. Choi of South Korea's Washington embassy denies the charge. He says his country provides a lot of aid to North Korean refugees. He adds that in its talks with the North, South Korea addresses the issue of human rights violations.

Apart from proposed legal action, Mr. Horowitz says groups are actively seeking to file a complaint with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. "If South Korea's NIS is as hostile to refugees and defectors, if it continues to be that way, there will be church groups and political groups and members of [U.S.]Congress and international bodies that will be examining this matter very, very actively," he said.

The activists hope they will be able to pressure the South into publicly denouncing the North's human rights record, a move they say would help bring about the end of Kim Jong-Il's regime.