'Everything has changed,' Kim Byung-do says
SEOUL, July 30, 2003--More than 30 years after a clam-fishing trip turned into a nightmare, South Korean fisherman Kim Byung-do has returned home to be reunited with the family he left behind. "I can not find proper words to describe this feeling," Kim told RFA's Korean service. "I hadn't expected the world to have changed so much. Everything has changed except the rocks and seawater."
Kim left his home in Kyung-Sang Province on a routine clam-fishing trip in 1973. He was kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to begin a new life in the reclusive Stalinist country. He left behind him an infant daughter, who was later raised by her grandmother and uncle and has already married. He married again and started a second family in North Korea.
"I imagined that she would have grown up, but when I actually saw her, so grown, so pretty, she and I only cried," Kim said. "I am sorry, as a father, I did nothing."
Kim said he had intended only to visit his South Korean mother and brother in China, and then return to North Korea. But once he met them in secret, they persuaded him to flee to South Korea. Now, he said, he fears his North Korean wife may believe he misled her about his plans.
"Life here in South Korea is something you cannot imagine. They have everything here. Even now, I can't believe it, all this luxury. It's like a dream," he said, in a message he hopes his North Korean family will hear. "But we will meet again, that is sure. We will be a family again. I am asking you to wait for your husband," Kim said. "Do not die, try to survive, to stay healthy. We will be together again."
Kim said that he was well treated on his arrival in North Korea in 1973 and initially provided with everything he needed. He became a model worker and joined the Party, winning a promotion at his factory. But by then the country was the in the grip of a severe economic crisis, which was later to lead to food shortages and famine.
"The food supply was bad," Kim said. "Life became very difficult, very difficult," he said, adding that as well as his wife, he had a daughter, two sons and a grandson waiting for him north of the Demilitarized Zone.