Laura Ling and Euna Lee Break Slience on Being Captive in North Korea
In a joint-opinion piece in Monday’s LA Times entitled Hostages of the Hermit Kingdom, Laura Ling and Euna Lee break their nearly one-month silence since being freed from five months of captivity in the Juche-socialist republic of North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The two reporters were freed during a private humanitarian mission led by a important envoy, former United States President Bill Clinton to North Korea and its diminutive dictator, Kim Jong-Il.
Ling and Lee were captured on the morning of March 17th after crossing the Tumen River that separates North Korea from China. In the LA Times article, the women recount how they following their Korean-Chinese guide across the border to cover a story they were developing on human trafficking for Current TV.
When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained.
The two journalists were intentionally vague about describing details of their 140 days in captivity, citing memories too painful to recall at this present time. Instead of focusing on Pyongyang and offering a description of what they endured, the two reporters instead chose to shed light on the subject matter they intended to expose in the first place – the plight of North Korean defectors who live in terror of being deported back to their homeland and the lives they are forced to lead. The two reporters state that these lives often include involvement in illicit trades such as working as internet sex workers. Still they say that even this kind of life beats the impoverished and hungry existence defectors would have to look forward to if sent back to North Korea. In concluding their first statement since being released, Laura Ling and Euna Lee want to re-focus the world’s attention on the dangerous issues like this covered in Vanguard Journalism that they want to expose in the first place.
As an observer of the Laura Ling and Euna Lee Saga, I am left with several questions which I fear will go unanswered despite their article. How were they really treated during their 140-day confinement? What political and socio-economic impact will be produced long-term by President Clinton’s visit? Surely he and and the Kim Jon-Il regime didn’t discuss anything beyond freedom for these two reporters…
Though not ‘official,’ Clinton’s private visit marks the closest North Korea has gotten to bilateral talks with the U.S. in a long, long time. So what happened… I guess time will tell but one thing’s for certain, inquiring minds want to know.