As delegates met in the no man’s land of Panmunjom yesterday, raising anew the prospect of reunification for families separated by the Korean War, two North Korean defectors — one fearful of reunification, the other desperate to return — illustrate the deep divisions that scar the peninsula.
Last month, Sun-sil Lee moved into a new apartment outside of Seoul — a landmark moment for the 50-year-old who 12 years ago was starving on the streets of a North Korean border town, begging for food for herself and her three-year-old daughter.
The former army nurse, who gave birth on the streets after fleeing an abusive marriage, tried eight times to defect before succeeding at a terrible cost in 2005. Ms Lee had been determined to give her daughter a life without hunger but says human traffickers pounced soon after she stepped into China, carrying her child in a rucksack on her back. Over her own screams, and the little girl’s frightened pleas to her mother, they auctioned her off to the highest bidders among a group of people gathered for the sale.
“My daughter was grabbing hold of my hand as they took her away. She kept saying to me; ‘Mummy, I will never say I am hungry again. Please take me with you,’ ” she recalls.
Ms Lee herself was sold to a local Chinese wheat farm but escaped and eventually made her way into South Korea with help from a well-established defection network. She has never found her daughter, despite years of searching.
“People here [in South Korea] live in so much abundance and happiness, that they just cannot imagine the horrors that millions endure daily just two hours away by car,” she said. [Continue story]