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     Jan 21, 2005
Kim Jong-il and the 'A' word
By David Scofield

There is no shortage of stories these days suggesting that the North Korean regime is coming apart at the seams. There's even talk of the "A" word - not "assassination", but rather "asylum" or "amnesty". It would free the oppressed Korean people, but it it also would free Dear Leader Kim-Jong-il from the justice he has denied to his subjects.

First there were the stories of Kim Jong-il's portraits being removed from public places in Pyongyang. Then an increase in anecdotal testimony by recently escaped North Koreans suggesting a growing underground movement of dissent. Last Monday, a South Korean website operated by North Korean refugees living in Seoul, posted a link to a video purportedly smuggled out of North Korea. The video, the first half disjointed shots of a cold, desolate-looking city in what certainly looks like North Korea, seems designed to confirm to the viewer that this has not been staged in a Chinese border town, where life is more prosperous and livelier.

The videographer entered a warehouse and filmed a sign taped to the wall that said "Overthrow (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-il. Comrades, let's fight ..." Later the camera moved to a picture of the Dear Leader himself, with the words "Kim Jong-il, we demand freedom and democracy ..." written in red script across his beaming face.

The South Korean authorities were quick to cast aspersions upon the film's authenticity. After all, the video seemed to be depicting some sort of organized opposition to the Dear Leader's rule, assertions his supporters in South Korea's Blue House refuse to acknowledge because they are seeking entente and eventual reunification with their misunderstood and much-maligned brethren to the North.

The risks taken by those who smuggled the video out are not hard to fathom. In the best-case scenario, to be caught filming such a defacement would mean certain death, and if the criminal were lucky, a quick death. However, defiling the image of the Dear Leader in such a way as depicted in the video, would very likely mean a slow and painful exit from this world, as a lesson to other dissidents, lest they underestimate the cost of discord.

On Tuesday, the Monthly Chosun related a story of how Kim Jong-il, his fund manager and his girlfriend managed to be granted US visitors visas, by submitting forged passports to the US Embassy in Brazil in 1997. He apparently didn't travel, but Cho Gab-je, the author of this and other articles questioning the stability of the Northern system, postulated that Kim has been feeling out possible escape routes in case his rule continues to unravel, drastically so. As his children have been educated in Switzerland, and bank accounts in the same country are thought to hold a least a few hundred million of the billions of dollars the Kims have squirreled away over the years, Switzerland, the article suggested, may be a likely first stop for Kim and Co. Of course, given that Kim was born outside of North Korea in a small village in the Russian far east, it would seem he would have a legitimate claim to Russian citizenship as well.

Recent stories concerning possible chaos in North Korea's senior leadership are, by definition, difficult to gauge. High-ranking defectors, such as Hwang Jang-yop, the father of North Korea's juche ideology and the most senior government official to defect to South Korea, has at times stated Kim's regime is strong, while at others times he has asserted that it hangs together by a thread; personal ambitions sometimes muddy the elder official's perceptions.

But while the validity of recent reports concerning undercurrents of dissent in the North are virtually impossible to definitively judge, it is obvious that there are far more stories, pictures, videos and testimony in the public domain originating from the North than ever before. The implication being, if nothing else, the regime's ability to thwart the smuggling of people, video and photographic material out of the North has diminished. Indeed, the recently passed US North Korean Human Rights Act provides a budget of just under US$2 million a month for the next three years to those who aid and abet refugees while exposing the system they flee - a paltry sum easily lost in the US budget, but perhaps an incentive for those committed to exposing the atrocities of the North to take greater risks in securing evidence of dissent.

Whatever the case, the untenable nature of the Kim regime is becoming clearer, at least to those outside South Korea's Unification Ministry. That Kim Jong-il is not capable of making the sorts of changes necessary for his regime to comply with previous promises concerning his ending his nuclear program, much less any consideration of sundries such as human rights, should be obvious by now. Given this, the question of what to do with the Kims is beginning to gain currency, with some floating the "A" word, meaning amnesty and asylum.

Supporters of amnesty and asylum for the Kims argue that it would remove the leadership and emancipate the people of North Korea with a minimum of bloodshed and instability. On the other hand, it would not hold Kim and Co accountable for their crimes, though dictators from Idi Amin of Uganda to Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, among others, have been granted residence in other countries.

Images of Kim lapping Hennessy Paradis from the belly of one of the thousands of young girls who comprise his pleasure team, hardly approach the justice those most familiar with his reign know must be applied. Indeed, with others in the leadership structure likely no less ambivalent to the suffering and despair than Kim, the option of an escape to a walled villa in an undisclosed nation, while expedient, hardly ensures justice.

There are other ways of course. He and his immediate family's deaths could be staged, their DNA scattered around the scene of a massive explosion, such as the one at Ryongchon, where a blast occurred at a train station last April, hours after Kim Jong-il had passed through on his way back from China. His "death" and then absolute seclusion might be possible. Of course, this is Kim Jong-il, and it is unlikely that he and even a minimum complement of lackeys would be able to live out their days in seclusion, and not demand the attention of the world, or work to influence the newly managed North in some self-serving way.

Consider Charles Taylor, the former dictator of Liberia. At least 250,000 died when Taylor seized the nation's capital in coup in 1990. After 10 years of bloody rule, the solution, with a minimum of additional bloodshed, was for Charles, his wife, bodyguards and other essential lackeys to be moved to another locale. This it turns out was the easy part. Far from living out their days comfortably expelled to a palatial villa in an exclusive suburb of Lagos, Nigeria, Taylor is still reportedly using his remaining influence in the country to affect decisions made by the new government in Liberia. Is it any less likely the "Sun King" wouldn't do the same?

As for justice, last year the US Congress added a line item to a large bill which provides a reward, $2 million, a bounty some might call it, to whomever produces Charles Taylor to a United Nations-backed war-crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, where he is wanted for war-crimes violations stemming from his backing of rebel groups. So with Taylor as an example, it is unlikely Kim would be interested in a deal that could see him outside the comparatively safe confines of North Korea, exposed, with a price on his head.

That Kim Jong-il is the fundamental impediment to regional peace and national development in North Korea should be obvious. But bundling his bouffant and even a fraction of his pleasure team off to an undisclosed location in order for him to live out his days is reprehensible at the most basic human level. That he must go is without question. That his exit should be painless and impermanent would be a grave injustice to all who suffered and died under his rule.

David Scofield, former lecturer at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies, Kyung Hee University, is currently conducting post-graduate research at the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.

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