Saturday, February 18, 2006

North Korean Cheerleaders Sent To Prison Camp

Some North Korean cheerleaders who took part in athletic events in the South have been jailed at a prison camp after returning home, a survivor of another camp said yesterday, quoting recent defectors from the communist state. Twenty-one young women were accused of revealing their experience in the South against a code of silence to which they swore, said Kang Chol-hwan, who himself escaped the North in 1992, quoting North Korean defectors now in China. Kang is the author of the book “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” about his own experience of torture and forced labour in a North Korean prison camp.
He had a personal audience with US President George W Bush last year during which they discussed human rights abuses in the North. “I heard that the women violated the oath not to disclose what they saw and heard in the South,” Kang quoted one of the defectors who had served in the camp as saying in an article he wrote for the major daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo. Authorities could not verify the report. The group of cheerleaders grabbed attention in South Korea last year at an Asian athletics event near Seoul with their precision choreography and endless smiles. The camp in Taehung had been known to hold financial criminals but more recently began taking political prisoners, Kang later said by telephone. The camp is located in rugged mountains in the northeastern part of North Korea. Kang quoted another North Korean defector as saying the cheerleaders were picked from elite college graduates and propaganda troops. North Korea is one of the world’s most reclusive states where, human rights groups say, violations are rampant.