The story of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was arrested and killed in North Korea, is known to the world.
But there are many others like Otto from countries worldwide. While perhaps not imprisoned, they were abducted by North Korea and forced to stay there against their will. They were allowed zero contact with their families, and it remains unknown whether some are still alive, or whether they’ve all died, even after three or four decades.
North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese people, but others claim the regime has abducted hundreds. Hundreds of South Koreans have also been kidnapped, and abductees also include citizens of France, China, Thailand, Romania, Lebanon and other nations, according to the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN).
One alleged victim is U.S. citizen David Sneddon. In 2004, the American student was hiking in China when he disappeared. While local police gave the official explanation that he had fallen into a gorge, his family later said that was highly unlikely. Sneddon was an experienced hiker, and had trekked in much more dangerous turf than the terrain he encountered that day. When his parents went to retrace their son’s route, they said the area where police said he’d fallen into the gorge, and they remain unconvinced of the official explanation.
Sneddon is believed to have been abducted for several reasons. Taken piece by piece, the evidence is circumstantial. But taken together, Sneddon’s family says the evidence makes a strong case.
It’s not only the family that believes it. In 2013, Japanese minister of state for the abduction issue Keiji Furuya told a U.S. expert “it is most probable that a U.S. national has been abducted to North Korea,” when asked about the Sneddon case.
Sneddon’s mother said he went missing while hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province.
Retracing his steps, his family found witnesses who said they had seen him, and one tour guide said Sneddon had made it across the gorge, in sharp contrast to police explanations that Sneddon had fallen into the gorge and drowned. Moreover, Sneddon’s body has never been found.
That part of China is used by North Koreans who, after escaping, traverse through China and into a third country. Experts say China allows North Korean agents to enter its territory in a bid to track down North Korean escapees, as it’s considered a serious crime to leave North Korea.
Fox News cited one Japanese news report from quoting a South Korean organization that deals with abductions. The report claimed he was married with two children and living in Pyongyang and teaching English to North Korean officials. Foreign language and culture instruction has typically been a reason that many have been kidnapped.
In 2016, the Seoul-based Abductees’ Family Union, a group that advocates for South Korean kidnapping victims in North Korea, said a source told them that Sneddon was living inside North Korea.
“I received a call not too long ago from a source in Pyongyang that David was moved to a remote area in Mount Myohyang (160 kilometers north of Pyongyang) and is currently under special surveillance,” the organization’s head, Choi Sung-yong, told Voice of America in an interview.
“There are also reports that Sneddon was seen at Chosun Red Cross Hospital and the Bongsu Church in Pyongyang,” Choi told VOA.
According to Choi, Sneddon was brought to Pyongyang via Myanmar, on the orders of Kim Jong Il, the now deceased leader, who wanted to have an American to teach English.
According to Choi, Sneddon now goes by the Korean name Yoon Bong Su, and is married to a woman in her late 30s, named Kim Eun Hye. The couple have two children, according to the report.
Sneddon’s parents, Roy and Kathleen, said the U.S. State Department has dismissed Choi’s claims. But the State Department has not always been interested in their son’s case, especially after now former U.S. President Barack Obama was elected.
Now, there is renewed interest in Sneddon’s case, and a group of eight Congressmen in April co-sponsored a resolution that calls on the State Department to ask China, South Korea and Japan for help on the Sneddon case, and to “consider all plausible explanations for David’s disappearance,” including the possibility that he’d been kidnapped by North Korea.
Sneddon is just the tip of the iceberg.
The story of Megumi Yokota, who was at age 13 snatched on her way home from school in her small seaside village, is well-known in Japan.
In 1977, Megumi was grabbed by North Korean agents who had infiltrated Japan and dragged onto a boat, which took her straight to North Korea. She was then allegedly forced to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and culture, so that they might infiltrate Japan and pass themselves off as Japanese citizens.
After 40 years, Megumi’s aging parents believe she is still alive, and are slated to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump during his upcoming Japan and Asia trip.
Seventeen Japanese citizens – nine women and eight men – are official recognizes by Japan’s government as having been kidnapped, but some groups believe that number is in the hundreds. Pyongyang has officially admitted to snatching 13 Japanese citizens.
In 1978, a Romanian woman who had been living in Rome was kidnapped by a North Korean operative, and lived in the isolated state for around two decades, the Romanian daily Evenimentul Zilei reported.
Born in Bucharest in 1950, Doina Bumbea was 27 when she went missing. Bumbea was an artist who had married an Italian at age 21 and went to Italy to study. Her family said she traveled back to Romania on a regular basis and called every two weeks. Then she suddenly vanished.
Her family reported that she was missing, and said an Italian man had approached her before she disappeared, offering her a chance to exhibit her work in a gallery in Japan.
Charles Jenkins, who was forced to stay in the isolated state for four decades after deserting the U.S. Army and crossing into North Korea, said he and his wife shared an apartment with Bumbea and her then husband, and that she died of lung cancer in 1997.
Also in 1978, a Thai woman was abducted from Macau, where she had been living and working as a massage therapist. Anocha, as she was known, disappeared in Macau in July 1978. The woman was allegedly been forced into a boat where she had been guiding a man who said he was a Japanese tourist, on a river bank.
On July 2nd, 1978, the same day Anocha was abducted in Macau, two Chinese women there were also kidnapped –Hong Leng-ieng, who was 20, and So Moi-Chun, who was 22.
The same person, who claimed to be a Japanese tourist and tricked Anocha, also played a role in the disappearance of the two Chinese women, who were sales assistants at Macau’s Hotel Lisboa.
South Korean actress Choi Un-hee, who had been kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 and escaped in 1986, testified that she had been friends, during her captivity, with a Chinese woman from Macau by the name of Hong.
In December 2005, Japanese group NARKN met with the actress in a bid to gather details about Hong Leng-ien.
In 1978, North Korean operatives abducted four Lebanese women in Beirut, who were able to escape a year later. The Arabic-language Lebanese newspaper EL NAHAR on Sept. 9, 1979, reported their testimonies.
“After our passports were confiscated, we were sent to a camp. We were given spy-agent training through activates such as judo, tae kwon do and karate, and we were also taught illegal eavesdropping techniques. At the same time, we were constantly brain washed with the doctrines of Kim Il-sung. There were 28 young women in the camp, from Europe or the Middle East. Among them were three French, three Italian and two Dutch women. It was impossible for them all to rebel against their captors.”
South Korea claims that 486 South Koreans have been kidnapped by the North since the war’s end, with most of them being taken while fishing in areas near the North Korean border.
U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to meet with the families of Japanese victims of North Korean kidnappings on his 11-day trip to Asia, reported the Japan Times.
Japan’s Jiji Press reported Saturday that Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota’s 81-year-old mother expressed her hope that Trump would cooperate in a bid to bring her daughter home.
“I’ll make an appeal for my daughter’s early return,” Sakie Yokota said in an interview with Jiji Press.
“I hope he, as a father, will cooperate.”
The businessman-turned-politician brought up Megumi’s abduction in his speech at the United Nations in September.
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