• SHARE

A North Korean who was once detained in the notorious Yodeok concentration camp called on South Korea, Japan and other nations to join hands to pressure the Kim Jong Il regime.

The hope that Kang Cheol Hwan harbors is that the the Stalinist government will eventually collapse.

He called on neighboring countries to help save North Koreans still interned in the North.

Kang called his days in the camp a “living hell.”

Kang, who defected to South Korea in 1992, said he used to rise at 5 a.m. and work until 8 p.m., harvesting opium and digging for gold in mines.

“As for food, we were (only) given corn and a small amount of salt so that in three months all the inmates suffered from malnutrition,” Kang told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Interned when he was nine, Kang was released in 1987, when he was 19; he defected five years later. He is currently a reporter for the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo and a co-representative of the South Korean nongovernmental organization Democracy Network Against North Korea Gulag.

“Inmates ate frogs, cockroaches and snakes — whatever filled their stomachs — in order to survive,” Kang said, adding that those who didn’t died from malnutrition.

There was also an open execution area in the camp, Kang said. “I personally witnessed (executions) 11 times.”

Another defector, Ahn Myung Cheol, a former prison guard who worked at three other camps, said he had no doubts when he was instructed to shoot those who escaped or instigated riots.

“I was told that the prisoners are bad people who betrayed (the regime) and should be handled viciously,” said Ahn, who defected to South Korea in 1994.

He gradually began to harbor doubts when he found out that the inmates, some detained at the age of two, did not seem to know why they were sent to the camp, he said.

The two were in Japan to increase public awareness of the plight of interned North Koreans. They attended gatherings organized by Japanese NGOs in nine cities during their stay.