The American journalists taken prisoner in March for illegally entering into North Korea revealed that North Korean soldiers “dragged” them from China over the hostile border. In an exclusive column in the L.A. Times, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were freed last month, recounted part of their grim tale and admitted to entering North Korea for a brief time while investigating their story. (Last month we looked into if Americans can legally travel to North Korea, and the answer is yes, with many restrictions.)
“There were no signs marking the international border, no fences, no barbed wire,” they wrote. The border in question was the frozen Tumen River, which serves as a partial territorial marker between the countries. “When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.
“We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained.”
Ling and Lee say they may have been set up by their guide, but take full responsibility. “We didn't spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret.”
In a related story, the status of three American hikers arrested in Iran last month is still unknown. Family members appeared on the Today Show to ask for their release. The hikers supposedly crossed an unmarked border accidentally during a recreational trip in Iraq. Some reports hypothesize they could have been tricked into crossing or accosted while still in Iraq, much like Ling and Lee. Follow the hikers’ developing story at freethehikers.org, a website created by the hikers’ families.
The New York Times critiques Ling and Lee’s account here.
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