Korean Community Urges Strong Response

North Korean defectors and Korean-Americans call for a stand against future provocations.
2010-11-24
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Yeonpyeong Island in the aftermath of the North Korean artillery attack, Nov. 23, 2010.
Yeonpyeong Island in the aftermath of the North Korean artillery attack, Nov. 23, 2010.
Yonhap News

Governments around the world must stand up to North Korean belligerence following a recent artillery attack by the reclusive state on South Korean territory, according to North Korean defectors in the U.S. and other Korean-Americans.

The U.S.-based Korean community has largely expressed outrage at North Korea’s Nov. 23 bombardment of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea, which left two South Korean marines and two civilians dead.

While serving in the North Korean military, forty-year-old defector Kim Chul Nam was assigned to the area where the artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island originated.

Kim said he believes that the attack on South Korean territory was a form of posturing ahead of the North Korean military’s winter training cycle.

“Every year, between Dec. 1 and March of the following year, the North Korean military undergoes its winter training cycle. Before beginning their extended training, they engaged in a psychological operation,” he said.

“South Korea has recently hosted the G20 Summit in Seoul, and did very well in the Asian Games. I believe that North Korea is jealous of these South Korean achievements, and launched this bombardment to rain artillery shells on South Korea’s parade.”

After escaping from North Korea in 2005, Kim Chul Nam lived in China and other third countries in Southeast Asia before being granted refugee status and resettling in the United States four years later.

Kim said he believes that the South Korean government’s failure to resolutely react to both large and small previous North Korean provocations was partly to blame for North Korea’s reckless attack on South Korean territory.

Uncertain transition

Kim Kwang Jin, a former North Korean senior official and currently a research fellow with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), said North Korean uncertainty surrounding its ongoing transition of power led to the artillery attack.

“I see this provocation as part of an aggressive strategy emerging from a sense of insecurity surrounding the process of North Korea’s second hereditary leadership transition,” he said.

Current North Korean leader Kim Jong Il recently anointed his youngest son, 27-year-old Kim Jong Un, as his successor, after falling ill and suffering a stroke last year.

Kim Kwang Jin said North Korean military commanders are prone to interpret developments in the leadership transition irrationally and are likely to engage in ill-advised and overly aggressive acts.

“When a tigress teaches her cub how to hunt, the cub doesn’t yet know fear or danger, and may run amok,” Kim said.

“In other words, while paying little or no consideration to the preservation of peace and security on the Korean peninsula, it is likely that anxiety may be expressed through irresponsible, reckless acts, by simply ordering…‘Just open fire and engage, no matter what may happen.’”

Firm response urged

Lee Dong Hee, president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Unification Advisory Council (NUAC),  said the international community must react resolutely to the North Korean attack to prevent any recurrence.

The NUAC provides counsel to South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.

Lee also referred to the alleged North Korean torpedoing of a South Korean warship Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors.

"In the aftermath of the Cheonan incident, there were some in South Korea who attempted to discredit the South Korean government, by claiming that it had distorted the facts in its public statements. I believe that such radically schismatic South Korean views created a breeding ground for North Korean provocations,” he said.

“I also believe that the recent incident must spur national agreement by all citizens of South Korea that such North Korean provocations must never be allowed again, from this point forward.”

Lee said the NUAC plans to release a statement urging the South Korean government to respond firmly to the North Korean attack.

Reunions stalled

Members of Korean families separated by the Korean War, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the North Korean attack derailed the much-anticipated Nov. 25 inter-Korean Red Cross meeting, aimed at exploring the implementation of regular family reunions.

Lee Cha Hee, secretary-general of the Steering Committee for Separated Family Reunions, said Korean-Americans with relatives in the North still hope that regular visits will be scheduled in the future so that they might confirm whether their long-lost relatives are still alive.

Lee called the breakdown of the Red Cross talks “regrettable,” but added that the decision by the South Korean government to cancel those talks was fully justified and understandable.

He said it would be nearly impossible to reach any type of agreement after the North Korean attack resulted in the loss of South Korean lives, including young lives, and the destruction of South Korean property.

Reported by Jinkuk Kim for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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