Activist Who Walked into N.Korea 'Motivated by Faith'

      December 29, 2009 11:28

      An evangelical activist who crossed the frozen border river into North Korea on Christmas in a daredevil mission to draw attention to human rights abuses there was driven by his religious faith, according to a fellow campaigner. Korean American Robert Park crossed the frozen Duman (or Tumen) River and, taking off his jumper and brandishing a Bible, walked toward Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province.

      Jo Sung-rae (38), of the civic organization Pax Koreana, said Park prayed for an hour at the China-North Korea border before crossing the river, during which he claimed to have heard God's voice telling him not to be afraid. Two North Korean defectors who were watching Park said he crossed the river in a dignified manner with his shoulders squared.

      Park is a missionary with a Korean church in Tucson, Arizona. After making regular Saturday runs to Mexican slums, he concentrated on North Koreans early in 2008, making frequent visits to South Korea and China. He is said to have been motivated by witnessing starving North Koreans. His mother, who lives in the San Diego area, is also a missionary.

      Robert Park (second from right), who walked into North Korea on Friday brandishing a Bible and demanding the country improve its human rights record, in a family photo taken two years ago /AP-Yonhap

      Leading activist group Freedom and Life for All North Koreans, Park broadened his activities from prayer meetings for North Koreans to rallies and campaigns. Opening a rally at Pagoda Park in Seoul on Sept. 4, marking the 20th anniversary of the prayer meetings in East Germany that led to the opening of the Berlin Wall, he called on the North Korean authorities to shut down political concentration camps.

      Park joined hands with other activists including Suzanne Scholte of the U.S. organization Defense Forum and groups in Japan, the U.K. and Canada.

      Park became determined to go to North Korea at a Seoul rally in September. "Then he announced he was going to enter the North because he was convinced that the time for action has come," an official associated with the group Park led. He is reported to have told associates that he hoped his act will sound a starting signal for those who are interested in human rights in North Korea but are still hesitant to act.

      Meanwhile, a North Korean defector who helped Park cross into North Korea is demanding a huge sum of money for a video covering the event. Jo said the man wants W100 million (US$1=W1,171) and is contacting media outlets at home and abroad. "We've received the jumper Park left behind just before walking into the North and his identification card from another North Korean defector who assisted him," Jo added.

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