Singaporean photographer Aram Pan on Tuesday unveiled a video from Pyongyang taken with defector Kim Ryon Hui’s daughter.
Kim, who argues she arrived in South Korea mistakenly, has this year been pleading for the right to be repatriated to the North.
“A few days ago, November 21 was my mother’s birthday,” Li told Pan, who runs the DPRK 360 website. “I don’t know how she celebrated her birthday in South Korea, where there are no family members to celebrate with.”
Kim told NK News on Tuesday that the video caught her off guard.
“It is really unexpected. I suddenly saw Aram Pan’s Facebook posting. In this cold world, people like them are a shining light,” she said.
She repeated “thank you so much” to Pan for going Pyongyang and meet her daughter.
“They’ve never met me, but embraced my tragedy as theirs,” she said.
However, Kim has gotten no closer to achieving her objective of returning to North Korea since her story was publicized earlier this year.
“A few days ago I met an official from the Ministry of Unification (MoU) department of settlement, and he said MoU can provide total support for my settlement, but what I want is not to settle,” Kim said.
She said the MoU will not repatriate her, concerned that Pyongyang might use her story for propaganda.
“If North Korea uses my repatriation for its interests, how can the one case undermine South Korea?” she told NK News.
North Korea has called for Kim’s repatriation citing human rights, arguing South Korea is producing more divided families. The state-run Uriminzokkiri site released Li’s letter on November 17.
Her arrest has also been compounded by the arrest of her supporters, who are mainly South Korean pastor/activists, for alleged espionage activities. Reporter Heo Jae-hyun from South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper said he introduced Kim to the pastors, and denied the charges of their communicating with North Korea.
Kim answered her daughter’s message with encouraging words.
“I am so proud of my daughter, being bright and confident without mom. Thank you so much, and sorry.”
Travel company YPT said they made the request to meet Li at photographer Pan’s request.
“We wanted to relay a message from the daughter in the DPRK back to her mother in South Korea,” said YPT staff member Rowan Beard. “It’s simple, yet means so much for them both.”
Defectors living in South Korea who do not wish to return home receive – in contrast – no assistance from Pyongyang when attempting to connect to family members they left behind in North Korea.
Kim’s case has attracted some skepticism, with commentators questioning whether North Korea has been exerting some degree of pressure on her and whether she would face punishment upon her return.
But Christopher Green, Ph.D candidate at the University of Leiden, previously said it was unlikely the North could “manufacture” a case such as this, and said that the reaction of Kim’s family toward her continued stay in the South could be both genuine and influenced by regime pressure.
“The South Korean government doesn’t protest the idea that Kim Ryon Hui wishes to return to North Korea and is being stopped from doing so; in fact, their strategic silence appears to tacitly acknowledge the veracity of the North Korean claim,” he said.
Additional reporting: JH Ahn
Main picture: DPRK 360
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