Student Flies to N. Korea to Attend Event : S. Korea Dissident Defies Festival Ban
In an act of political defiance that could have major repercussions on the divided Korean Peninsula, a young Korean woman from Seoul flew into Pyongyang on Friday to attend a sports and cultural festival as a representative of radical students in the south.
Im Suk Yong, 20, who identified herself as a fourth-year student majoring in French at the Hankook Foreign Languages University in Seoul, was given a tumultuous, red-carpet welcome at Pyongyang Airport, with music from a student band and hundreds of organized greeters.
Im was embraced as if she were a long-lost relative by a few young women, then surrounded by a shoving group of young male students and dozens of photographers from the international press corps.
The crowd made up of Im, two or three bodyguards, the shoving students who were part of the welcome and the struggling photographers made its way along a red carpet past a cheering crowd and a portrait of North Korean President Kim Il Sung.
“Reunification of the fatherland!” shouted the crowd, which included many women in traditional flowing Korean robes of pink or light blue. “Welcome!”
Im, whose 10-day journey from Seoul took her through Tokyo, West Germany, East Berlin and a Moscow airport, then stood on steps at the edge of the tarmac and gave a brief press conference.
“On behalf of the million students of South Korea who are fighting against the government, I have come to Pyongyang to take part in the Pyongyang festival,” she said.
“When I left Seoul, I thought (how) one could come here in a car so easily--it would only take four hours from Seoul to Pyongyang,” Im said. “But it took me 10 days to get here, through other countries.”
Today is the opening day of the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, a sort of leftist quasi-Olympics and cultural event, in Pyongyang. This festival was first held in Prague in 1947 and most recently in Moscow in 1985. About 12,000 athletes and other delegates or visitors have arrived and more are expected, according to guides working for the event. The theme of the festival is “anti-imperialist solidarity, peace and friendship.”
For Pyongyang, this “anti-imperialist” theme means a demand for the withdrawal of American forces from South Korea, where they have been stationed since the 1950-53 Korean War. The Pyongyang government and many South Korean student radicals believe that the U.S. presence in South Korea is a force blocking progress toward peaceful reunification.
American and South Korean supporters of the U.S. troop presence argue that it is necessary to ensure stability on the peninsula and deter any possible attack on the south by the north.
The South Korean government, concerned that the festival would be used for propaganda, has banned participation by South Koreans. In addition, all visits to North Korea by South Korean citizens are illegal without the Seoul government’s advance approval.
The largest dissident student organization in South Korea, the National Council of Student Representatives, usually known by the Korean name Chondaehyop, had been determined to send delegates to the festival. The chairman of Chondaehyop, Im Jong Chul, who apparently is no relative of the woman who arrived in Pyongyang on Friday, participated in a June 24 telephone dialogue from Seoul with North Korean student and youth representatives in Prague.
Im Jong Chul, who was already in hiding but allowed South Korean television to report on the call--was immediately accused of national security violations, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He has not yet been apprehended.
Im Suk Yong declared that she had come as the organization’s only representative.
“I am very sorry to be taking part in the Pyongyang festival alone, without lots of my friends, because the South Korean authorities blocked the South Korean students from taking part in the festival,” she said. “This shows that the South Korean government is anti-reunification. Nowadays, the forces which want reunification are being suppressed.”
Accompanying Im upon her arrival were several other Koreans, apparently including two or three originally from South Korea who now live in West Germany. The presence of these people was not considered politically significant, however. It appeared that Im would indeed be the only activist South Korean citizen to attend the festival.
In making an unauthorized visit to the north, Im is following in the footsteps of a dissident South Korean clergyman, the Rev. Moon Ik Hwan, and opposition assemblyman Suh Kyung Won.
Moon made an unauthorized nine-day visit to Pyongyang in April, with the announced intention of promoting reunification. He has been imprisoned since his mid-April return to South Korea and is now standing trial.
Suh, a member of the Party for Peace and Democracy led by Kim Dae Jung, made an unauthorized trip to Pyongyang last August. He was taken into custody early Wednesday and charged with violating the National Security Law, which bans unauthorized trips to North Korea and communicating and meeting with North Koreans without government approval.
Investigators said they are trying to find out if Suh was spying for North Korea. He met President Kim Il Sung and other Pyongyang officials during the visit, they said.
Any similar treatment of Im could fuel the radicalism of leftist students in the south. But South Korean intelligence authorities said she will be arrested and charged with national security violations if she returns home. The South Korean prosecutor general’s office ordered an investigation into the funding and arrangements for her trip.
Meanwhile, in Seoul, thousands of riot police firing tear gas stormed the campus of Hanyang University to thwart a planned march by radical students to protest the ban on participating in the North Korean festival. Some students fought back with steel bars, clubs, rocks and firebombs, and at least 80 students and police officers were injured, police officials said. By nightfall, hundreds of students were barricaded in four buildings ringed by police. The campus was littered with rocks, clubs, tree limbs, broken chairs and lumber.
More than 500 students were arrested on the campus, and another 50 to 60 were arrested after trying to pass checkpoints leading to the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula.
Friday evening, several North Korean student and youth officials held a press conference at which they criticized the Seoul government for refusing to allow student dissidents to visit the north.
Kim Mun Hyon, an official of the League of Socialist Working Youth of Korea, who participated in the June 24 telephone dialogue with Im Jong Chul, assailed Seoul for its stance on reunification and South Korean student activism.
“The fact that we succeeded in having dialogue with the South Korean student is denounced by the South Korean authorities as a crime,” Kim declared. “All this means is (that) the South Korean regime is a fascist regime and is against the reunification of the country.”
Pok Chun Sim, a 43-year-old store salesclerk who was part of the welcoming group for Im at Pyongyang Airport, said that she was “deeply moved” to be able to join in greeting Im.
“Now, I feel that Korea is one,” she said. “Nobody can divide our nation in two.”