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(Yonhap Interview) Robert Park calls for cash remittances to N. Koreans to topple regime

All Headlines 10:23 January 16, 2012

By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is so insular and its regime is so brutal that few may believe that a popular uprising similar to those that toppled some longtime autocratic Arab leaders would ever be possible there.

A crack has been found in the iron-clad North Korean society, however, through which outsiders may attempt to reach out to grassroots people there and encourage them to rise up against the communist regime, according to a high-profile U.S. missionary who was once held captive in the isolated country for illegal entry.

Robert Park, a 31-year-old Christian missionary from Tucson, Arizona, is a believer in the power of U.S. dollars for people living in the brutal penury of a command economy in North Korea. He believes that a steady influx of cash to ordinary North Koreans can slowly undermine Pyongyang's grip on power.

Park's goal is to raise millions of dollars in donations from churches in South Korea, the United States and other countries and trickle it over the next few months into the hands of ordinary North Koreans through their relatives who have fled the country. He said he himself has raised $30,000 in donations for that purpose.

There are no normal inter-Korean banking channels, as the two countries have technically remained at war since the 1950-53 Korean War, forcing North Korean defectors in the South to turn to Chinese brokers for help.

The brokers, mostly ethnic Koreans in China and North Korean nationals in China, change dollars into North Korean currency and pocket 30 percent of remittances as fees before handing over 70 percent to the intended North Koreans.

"Many North Koreans want to rise up," Park said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency. "They are angry at this regime, and they will take action if they only have the ability and the resources. So, we just want to support them."

Park was caught as he crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea on what he called a "sacrifice" to help expedite some type of change in the North.

North Korea set him free in February 2010 after 43 days in detention, saying that he had admitted to wrongdoing. Details of Park's activities in North Korea have not been known. He only said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after going through what he described as "burning hell" in the North.

Yet, he said he has become a more vocal advocate for a campaign to liberate the North.

Park said remittances are intended to assist North Koreans with providing food for themselves in a country plagued by chronic food shortages for more than a decade. North Korea has long been accused of diverting foreign food aid to the ruling elite and military, the key backbone of the totalitarian regime.

The remittances by South Korea and the U.S. could also create a sense of being cared for among North Koreans, which in turn could serve as a "change agent" and eventually empower them to do what they want, he claimed.

Park also claimed some North Koreans are already rising up on a small scale through such activities as distributing fliers and vandalizing monuments seen as sacred in a country where the personality cult of late leaders runs deep.

Comments by some South Korean officials also backed his claim.

A statue of Kim Jong-suk, mother of late leader Kim Jong-il, and the Pyongyang monument built to celebrate the founding of the Workers' Party were vandalized last year, according to South Korean officials who are in a position to know the situation inside the North.

They also confirmed that someone scrawled messages in a university and at markets last year saying the hereditary "succession is a betrayal of socialism" and "let's topple Kim Jong-un." They did not elaborate and asked not to be identified, citing policy.

The younger Kim has continued to consolidate power following his father's death. Still, Park claims money and international support can facilitate dissident activities.

"I believe that a Pyongyang Spring in North Korea akin to the Arab Spring is possible, but it will only happen if the international community gets behind the North Korean refugees, because the refugees are the channel inside North Korea," Park said.

In a move to galvanize support, Park and his fellow Korean activists plan to hold rallies in Seoul, Berlin, Hong Kong and Washington D.C. on Jan. 27, the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where an estimated 1.1 million Jews died.

North Korea has long been accused of human rights abuses, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoner to acts of torture and public executions. Pyongyang has flatly denied the accusations, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

Genocide Watch, a Washington-based international nongovernmental organization that seeks to end genocide, said in a report last month that North Korea has "committed genocide and political mass killings," and is "a serial killer state."

On Genocide Watch Board of Advisors is Samantha Power, senior director for multilateral affairs at the U.S. National Security Council. Park said he is pushing to meet with Power, who was the main advisor to President Barack Obama for the Libya intervention, to discuss convincing national governments to invoke what he called the "responsibility to protect."

The U.N. initiative sets out responsibility of the international community to intervene if a sovereign state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities.

"North Korea is called the modern day Auschwitz," Park said in an emphatic voice. Genocide is "still not over. The genocide is continuing."


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