South Korean flees to the warm North

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IT DOESN'T take much imagination to see why people would flee the food shortages, political oppression and grinding Communist austerity of North Korea to seek asylum in South Korea. But why would anyone be inspired to defect in the opposite direction?

Every year a steady trickle of defectors manage to make their way to South Korea, where the government puts them on show to the world as another small trophy in the inter-Korean propaganda war. They routinely tell stories of reduced rice rations and the almost total lack of meat in North Korea, of bleak ideological loyalty campaigns and harsh punishments for anyone who puts a foot over the party line.

This year the number of defectors has been increasing, with over 100 lumberjacks from North Korean logging camps in the Russian Far East seeking asylum in Seoul. The Russian government this week chided Seoul for trying to extract too much propaganda from the phenomenon of the defecting North Korean loggers.

But now North Korea has produced a defector of its own - a man who claims to have fled the cruel capitalist system of South Korea for the warm and caring society of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung's workers' paradise. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carried an interview yesterday with Kim Jae Su, who was described as a former manager of a fisheries company in South Korea before he defected through a third country to the North.

Mr Kim said he and his family had defected because he hated 'US imperialist aggressors and the South Korean rulers courting their favour. When I was six years old, GI's stormed into my house and violated my mother. Later, my mother suffered from insomnia and left home. Her whereabouts are still unknown.'

He said he had been planning his escape to North Korea for some time before he finally 'came over to the embrace of the great President Kim Il Sung and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il'. Mr Kim's wife, Moon Jong Ja, told KCNA that 'everything was wonderful in the North'. Commenting on the education system, she said she felt like giving birth to 10 children because their schooling would be free. In the South, she claimed, 'one must have US dollars 50,000 ( pounds 34,000) to get a child through school and up to high school'.

While preening itself over the defection of Mr Kim, Pyongyang has also offered its own version of the fate of the disappearing lumberjacks in Siberia. The camps hold 20,000 - some North Koreans - who cut timber under contract with Russia.

This year more than 100 loggers have applied to the South Korean consulate in Vladivostok for asylum. But according to North Korea's Ministry of Forestry, the loggers are not defecting but being kidnapped by South Korea. 'If (the South) persists in its operation to kidnap our dignified workers by misrepresenting facts, in defiance of our reasonable warning, they will drink a bitter cup,' it said.