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North Korea thinks he introduced Covid-19. The South wished to arrest him

People make their method in Kaesong, North Korea July 23, 2019. North Korean chief Kim Jong Un positioned town of Kaesong close to the border with South Korea underneath whole lockdown after an individual was discovered there with suspected COVID-19 signs, saying “the vicious virus” might have entered the nation, state media reported Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News through AP)

Written by Choe Sang-Hun

Three years in the past, out of labor and hungry, Kim Geum Hyok climbed Mount White Horse close to his North Korean hometown, Kaesong, brooding on the meaninglessness of life.

Not far to the south, throughout a river, the 21-year-old may see high-rise buildings in South Korea, dazzlingly lit up. The sight beckoned him.

After two nights on the mountain, Kim crossed the world’s most closely armed border to get to it. He climbed down, crawled underneath and over layers of barbed-wire fences and made his method by means of minefields. At the river’s edge, he hid amongst reeds, improvising a life jacket from washed-up plastic trash. When night time fell, he started to swim.

“I kept swimming toward the light,” Kim stated of his 7 1/2 hours within the water, in an interview {that a} fellow North Korean defector posted on YouTube. “When I finally landed on the South Korean side and walked through reeds and saw South Korean soldiers approaching, I was so exhausted I collapsed.”

This month, after three years of life within the South, Kim went again — swimming throughout the identical river he’d crossed in 2017, South Korean officers stated. On Sunday, North Korea stated he might have introduced the coronavirus into the nation for the first time, and it put Kaesong, Kim’s hometown, under lockdown.

On Monday, a police division in South Korea stated that earlier than Kim left, a warrant had been issued for his arrest on a rape accusation.

North Korea didn’t establish Kim in its assertion. But South Korea stated he was the one defector within the South who had gone again to the North this month. The South didn’t disclose his full title, but it surely launched sufficient info for reporters to determine his id.

And different defectors who knew him — together with the YouTube interviewer, Kim Jin-ah, a girl from Kaesong — confirmed that it was him, importing images of Kim Geum Hyok to social media.

Weeks earlier than his departure, Kim, now 24, gave a number of interviews for Kim Jin-ah’s YouTube channel, Lady From Kaesong, speaking about his lives within the two Koreas. He used an alias and wore sun shades, and in some clips his face had been digitally altered. Much of what he stated couldn’t be independently verified.

“I once visited his apartment in late June and I was surprised that it was so bare of furniture,” Kim Jin-ah stated in a video posted after the person’s return to the North. “Looking back, I think he was already preparing to leave South Korea.”

Even earlier than Kim Geum Hyok went again, his story was an uncommon one. Most of the 33,000 North Korean defectors now residing in South Korea bought there by means of China and Southeast Asia. But some, like Kim, made the damaging determination to cross the inter-Korean border.

For a defector to return, nonetheless — to a desolate financial system and a dictatorship that calls defectors “human scum” — is uncommon. Eleven have accomplished so up to now 5 years, in line with the South’s Unification Ministry. Like many defectors, those that return have typically had bother adjusting to the South’s freewheeling capitalist society.

In one of many YouTube interviews, Kim stated he had misplaced most of his listening to at an early age.

“Because of that, I had difficulty communicating with people,” he stated. “I was beaten because I was told to bring one thing and brought something else.”

When he was nonetheless a baby, Kaesong, a metropolis of 300,000, was chosen as the location of an industrial park run collectively by the 2 Koreas. It opened in 2004, and Kaesong grew to become a boomtown, awash with money. Kim’s cousins labored on the park, he stated, and he himself offered eggs and greens.

But 4 years in the past, the South shut down the complicated in a dispute over the North’s nuclear weapons program. The financial system crashed, and Kim, like many others, was quickly out of labor. (Last month, with inter-Korean relations at one other low, the North blew up an workplace in Kaesong that it had collectively operated with the South.)

By the time he climbed Mount White Horse in June of 2017, Kim informed Kim Jin-ah, he “saw no hope for the future, no meaning in life, wondering whether I should continue to live or die.” Seeing the South Korean buildings at night time compelled him to “go there and check it out even if that meant my death,” he stated.

Kim stated he couldn’t take his eyes off South Korean tv throughout his debriefing by officers, which all defectors bear after arriving within the South. In the North, all TV units are preset to authorities propaganda channels.

Kim settled in Gimpo, a metropolis throughout the Han River from Kaesong. A health care provider corrected the listening to downside that he had lived with since childhood. He gave Kim Jin-ah no particulars about his situation or the therapy, however he informed her that he cried that day.

He additionally informed her that he missed his dad and mom deeply. He had enrolled in a vocational college, as a part of the resettlement program that the South presents to defectors. But he stated he stop and located work, hoping to ship cash to his household, as defectors typically do by means of middlemen in China.

Off digital camera, in line with Kim Jin-ah, Kim confided one thing else.

He informed her that he was being investigated by the police as a result of one other defector had accused him of raping her. He informed the YouTube interviewer that he had been so drunk on the night time in query that he couldn’t bear in mind something.

With Kim now within the North, it’s unimaginable to contact him for remark. But the police in Gimpo confirmed {that a} warrant had been issued for his arrest.

On July 17, officers say, Kim arrived on Ganghwa Island, which can have been the place he first set foot on South Korean soil. At 2:20 a.m. on the 18th, he bought out of a taxi on the island’s northern shore. Around that point, he despatched his final textual content message to Kim Jin-ah.

“I really didn’t want to lose you because you were like a big sister to me,” he wrote, in line with Kim Jin-ah, who learn the message on YouTube. “I will repay my debt to you no matter where I live, as long as I live.”

Kim Jin-ah, who was working at a 24-hour comfort retailer when the message arrived, rushed to Kim’s house as quickly as her shift ended, she informed her viewers.

She realized that he had given up the house days earlier, reclaiming his deposit. She stated he had additionally offered a used automobile he had borrowed from her, apparently to boost as a lot cash as he may earlier than going house.

South Korean officers concluded that Kim had crossed by crawling by means of a drain, three ft in diameter, that runs beneath barbed-wire fences on Ganghwa’s north shore. That led him to the Han River, which they consider he swam again throughout.

In a bag close to the drain, officers discovered financial institution receipts indicating that Kim had withdrawn 5 million South Korean received from his account, then transformed most of that to $4,000.

What occurred to Kim after he crossed is unknown. North Korea stated Sunday that he was in quarantine, accusing him of making “the dangerous situation in Kaesong City that may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster.”

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