SEOUL—A Korean-American missionary has disappeared along the Chinese border with Burma and Laos as he tried to shepherd six North Korean defectors to safety, under what a colleague describes as suspicious circumstances.
Sources close to the case say the U.S. State Department is investigating the disappearance in late December or early January of Jeffrey Park (Park Junjae), 63 and formerly a motel owner in Seattle, Washington.
Park became a missionary in 2000 and has been supported financially since then by his wife, who now lives in Atlanta.
Park was working with the Seoul-based Durihana Missionary Center and accompanied six North Koreans from Yenji, China in November to the Chinese-Burmese border, according to Cheon Kiwon, director of the mission.
"They tried in vain to cross into Burma, so they headed for Laos on Dec. 28," Cheon told RFA’s Korean service.
In a telephone call, Park promised to contact Cheon once the group had reached the Lao border, but Cheon said he hadn’t heard from Park since late December. The South Korean Embassy in Rangoon rebuffed Cheon’s requests Nov. 27 and Dec. 17 for help in arranging safe passage for the group. On Dec. 28, he said, Park headed for Laos with the defectors, but the group never arrived.
They tried in vain to cross into Burma, so they headed for Laos on Dec. 28.
On Jan. 16, a person who appeared to be Chinese-Korean and declined to identify himself phoned Cheon to say that the defectors had entered Burma but something had happened to Park.
The caller promised to phone again the following day but never called. Cheon then contacted the State Department to say Park had gone missing.
State Department officials declined to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.
According to one account, Park went missing somewhere along the so-called "southern route" that takes North Korean defectors to Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. This route comprises notoriously steep and rugged terrain.
Park’s wife, contacted by phone in Atlanta, said she had heard nothing from the State Department since Park was first reported missing. She declined to comment in detail and asked that her full name not be used.