Female N. Korean worker defected from Kaesong complex: activist


A North Korean defector who escaped from an inter-Korean industrial complex in the border city of Kaesong where she was employed remains in a third country, a South Korean activist here said Wednesday.

The 27-year-old woman, whose identity was withheld for her safety, fled Kaesong in late September and has since asked for help to travel to South Korea, according to Kim Yong-hwa, who leads a Seoul-based civic group advocating for the human rights of North Korean defectors.

The Unification Ministry and officials from South Korean firms operating in Kaesong said they had not heard about the defection and that there was no sign of abnormality at the complex around that time.

If confirmed, it would be the first known defection from the industrial complex, where about 36,000 North Koreans are employed by dozens of South Korean factories operating under the tight control of authorities from Pyongyang.

Seoul officials say the workers were carefully selected from a pool of young people with good family backgrounds from the North Korean border city or Pyongyang to ensure they would not be unduly influenced by the atmosphere of capitalism at the comoplex.

Exactly what motivated the woman to defect is not known, but Kim said she was apparently forced to choose between her marriage and her job, which earned her a relatively good salary in the impoverished nation.

The communist North bans female workers at Kaesong plants from getting married, a violation of their rights, Kim added. “(The young woman) is said to have gotten a warning once from the authorities over the matter,” he said.

Kim says North Korea exploits its workers at Kaesong by giving them only US$2 out of their monthly wage of about US$60 paid by South Korean firms.

Currently, 88 labor-intensive garment, kitchenware and various other South Korean factories operate in Kaesong. Pyongyang recently expelled hundreds of South Korean officials and managers from the complex in an effort to pressure Seoul to change its hardline North Korea policy.


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