12/10/2008, 00.00
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Human rights denied: North Korean worker defects from Kaesong industrial complex

The news, released today, dates back to last September. According to a human rights activist, the 27-year-old woman has taken refuge in China, and is now asking for asylum in South Korea. The testimony of a North Korean exile born and raised in a labor camp.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - She is the first North Korean to have defected from the inter-Korean industrial complex of Kaesong: the 27-year-old woman, whose identity is being kept secret for security reasons, has taken refuge in China by crossing the Tumen River, in anticipation of an expatriate visa to emigrate to South Korea. The news was released today by Kim Yong-hwa, a human rights activist working in defense of the citizens of North Korea who are leaving their country because of poverty and the lack of personal freedom.

According to the activist, the woman defected because she was denied permission to get married: the women who work in Kaesong, in fact, may not marry, under penalty of dismissal. "A clear violation of human rights," the activist comments.

The news of the defection has not been confirmed by the South Korean unification ministry, or by the heads of the companies in the South that operate across the border, possibly in order to avoid angering Pyongyang. It is the first case of the defection of a North Korean worker from the complex of Kaesong, at which about 36,000 citizens from the North work under the strict control of the Pyongyang regime. The government has selected the candidates carefully, choosing the ones from "well-off" families in order to prevent contact with people from the South from becoming an incentive to defect.

In the area of the human rights denied by the communist regime of Pyongyang, exemplary testimony comes from a refugee born and raised in the North Korean concentration camps, who defected to China and took refuge in South Korea. Shin Dong Hyuk, an activist who now fights for democracy and freedom in the North, has recounted his experience in a new book entitled "Escape to the Outside World."

Shin, born in 1982, describes life and the brutal rules in labor camp 14 in Kaechon, in the southern province of Pyongan. His is the first case known in the West of a North Korean citizen who escaped from the labor camps: during his detention, Shin witnessed the killing of his mother and brother, because they had tried to run away. He was subjected to tortures of all kinds, and the only moment of tenderness he remembers is when an older prisoner offered him some of his food. "Now, all that I want," Shin says, "is a normal life, like that of the other South Korean citizens." His dream? "To get married and have children."

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