Physically challenged killed in North Korea
SEOUL, Mar 22: North Korea has no people with physical disabilities because they are killed almost as soon as they are born, a physician who defected from the communist state today said.
Ri Kwang-chol, who fled to the South last year, told a forum of rights activists that the practice of killing newborns was widespread but denied he himself took part in it.
''There are no people with physical defects in North Korea,'' Ri told members of the New Right Union, which groups local activists and North Korean refugees.
He said babies born with physical disabilities were killed in infancy in hospitals or in homes and were quickly buried.
The practice is encouraged by the state, Ri said, as a way of purifying the masses and eliminating people who might be considered ''different''.
The group urged the South Korean government to change course away from ''silent diplomacy'' and immediately begin taking action to pressure the North to improve its human rights record.
The South Korean government has refused to join international condemnation of human rights abuses in the North out of concern that such a move could rattle ties with Pyongyang, which considers any criticism of its human rights as deeply offensive.
''The government should stop trying to avoid upsetting Kim Jong-il,'' said another defector, Kim Young-sun, 67, referring to the North Korean leader. ''It should try to upset Kim Jong-il,'' she said, adding it would be the best way to change the North.
Kim Young-sun is a survivor of the North's Yodok prison camp, notorious for its forced labour and life-sentences for people charged with conspiring against the Kim Jong-il leadership.
Mun Hyon-ok said women from her hometown in the northern region of North Korea bordering China were taken by a ring of human traffickers and probably ended up in China.
''And there are women who are selling themselves for a handful of rice,'' she told the forum.
North Korea has called itself a people's paradise and said criticism of its human rights was motivated by a goal of toppling the leadership of Kim Jong-il.
South Korea has come under fire from human rights groups and some countries for abstaining in votes on UN measures to condemn the North's human rights record.
Seoul has also avoided the subject in bilateral talks with the North. South Korean officials have said the best way to improve the situation is through quiet diplomacy and encouraging the North to improve its food situation and open up to the international community.