Faced with reports that Jimmy Carter was en route in his country, Kim Jong-il took an eminently understandable decision: and decamped to China.
Carter had been in Pyongyang in an attempt to secure the release of an imprisoned American citizen, Aijalon Gomes. This, marking a break with tradition for Carter, has succeeded.
Gomes, originally from Massachusetts, is a member of the Every Nation Church in Korea. On 25 January 2010, he had crossed into North Korea from China on a self-professed peace mission to intercede directly with Kim Jong-il on behalf of the poor wretches of the country. In April, he was sentenced to eight years hard labour.
This followed similar actions by Robert Park, a Korean Christian missionary who on Christmas Day 2009. Park was held captive for almost six weeks, during which time he was subjected to various forms of torture.
Both Gomes and Park are holy fools (and, as Kushibo discusses, personally acquainted). Whilst, even allowing for the clear signs of irrationality and delusional behaviour which Park for one previously had exhibited, they will have been aware of the remorseless cruelty of the North Korean military and security forces: unlike certain “peace activists” in other named conflicts, there was no element of bull-fighting in which they approached in the knowledge that they would not be attacked.
Yet, I really do wish that such acts of religious devotion could be carried out well away from grasp of Pyongyang which, as per their usual thoroughly bad behaviour, will use it to extract yet more concessions or derive propaganda value. This definitely occurred with the capture along the China border of Laura Ling and Euna Lee (albeit journalists) whose release was secured by both Clintons, after potentially endangering North Korean refugees along the Chinese border.
Despite all of that, I am relieved that Gomes has joined Ling, Lee and Park as emerging safely from the Hermit Kingdom. One Korean Christian who has not risked as much as Park and Gomes is Han Sang-ryeol, a pastor of the Korean Alliance for Progressive Movement (my radar always goes up when progressive is used to describe anything outside dry tax discussion).
Sang has just been arrested by South Korean security agents, following an unauthorized visit to North Korea. No apparent efforts had been made to enquire after Gomes: instead, like a Korean Hewlett Johnson, he has saluted Kim Jong-il’s indefatigability by saying “I genuinely respect, love and desire to obey you”.
In an apparent effort to have his cake and eat it, he also has dismissed the official report into the sinking of the South Korean corvette, the Cheonan as the “pinnacle of Lee Myung-bak’s lies” and accuse the South Korean President of sending the 46 dead sailors to their deaths.