December 29, 2009 07:59
North Korea is remaining silent on the fate of a U.S. citizen who entered the country illegally last week to spread a Christian message. Human rights groups are now asking themselves the difficult question of what to do next.
A close colleague of U.S. human rights activist Robert Park says he received a phone call shortly before Park made his illegal Christmas Day crossing into North Korea.
Jo Sung-rae is head of the Seoul group Pax Koreana. He says Park called about an hour before Friday's crossing took place. Park said that a video of him praying in English shortly prior to his journey should be released to the world.
Jo says Park, a 28-year-old American from Arizona, entered North Korea from China with a letter addressed to leader Kim Jong-il, to "proclaim Christ's love and forgiveness" and to urge Kim to close down the country's concentration camps.
Park warned he would make such a journey in a recent interview with Reuters. "I don't want President Obama to come and pay to get me out," Park said. "But I want the North Korean people to be free... The concentration camps have to be liberated. Until then I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will."
Human rights activists say more than 100,000 North Koreans live in appalling conditions in labor camps for minor political transgressions. They say the totalitarian government there punishes the possession of Christian materials especially severely.
North Korea has not acknowledged Park's entry. U.S. officials say they are aware of the situation and are doing what they can in the interest of his safety.
Park's crossing has raised questions about his mental stability. Tim Peters, a prominent Christian activist on North Korean human rights, describes Park as a "deeply passionate" newcomer to South Korea's activist community who arrived I about a year ago. But Peters says he did begin to distance himself from Park about a month ago. "I found him more and more remote, and some of his behavior was becoming eccentric," Peters said. "So I told him that. And I told him on several occasions some things that I noticed that were disturbing. But I had no idea, frankly, that such a drastic action was in the back of his mind. We're all shocked."
Peters says his and other human rights groups are unsure of how to go forward. He says he is hesitant to attend a number of planned rallies and demonstrations. "It's a bit of a quandary, really," Peters said. "It would lend the impression that our organization or myself, personally, was somehow endorsing this action that Robert decided upon himself. I find that quite troubling."
Rallies in support of Park are planned later this week in Seoul and New York.
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