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North Korean defectors regard historic summit with hope

At a historic meeting on Friday, North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will discuss the North's nuclear program, begin talks on officially ending the Korean War after 65 years, and lay the groundwork for a meeting between Kim and President Trump later this spring. Special correspondent Katrina Yu reports.

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  • John Yang:

    In just a few hours' time, a historic meeting will take place between North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two will discuss the North's nuclear program, begin talks on officially ending the Korean war after 65 years, and lay the groundwork for a meeting between Kim and President Trump later this spring.

    As special correspondent Katrina Yu reports, while the world looks on, no one is more anxious about the results of tomorrow's summit than the Koreans themselves.


  • Katrina Yu:

    From her room in the suburbs of Seoul, North Korean native Kim Ryen Hui has been counting down the days to the summit. She has been living in the South for seven years. She sees tomorrow's meeting as bringing her one step closer to being reunited with her family in Pyongyang.

  • Kim Ryen Hui (through translator):

    Now we can finally overcome the pain of the division. As a child of the North Korean nation, I'm so happy I can now tell my child the time for reunification is coming.

  • Katrina Yu:

    Kim is one of many North Koreans separated from loved ones across the border, but unlike most defectors, she's not happy to be here. The 49-year-old says she was tricked into thinking she could work temporarily in South Korea, and hasn't been allowed to return to her daughter.

  • Kim Ryen Hui:

    I'm a mother of a child. People tell me the South is a decent place to live, you won't starve here, you can live well. And ask why would I go through the hardship of returning to the North? But even if I can't eat or live well, if I could be with my family, just hold my daughter again, there's nothing else I would want.

  • Katrina Yu:

    It's not known whether the issue of family separation will be on the table when the two leaders meet, but for the first summit in more than 10 years, an agenda is clear.

  • President Moon Jae-in (through translator):

    We must create a clear path that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the establishment of permanent peace, and the development of sustainable South and North Korean relations.

  • Katrina Yu:

    The meeting will be held at peace house in Panmunjom, a border village inside the demilitarized zone where the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953. A few miles away, South Koreans have been flocking to their side of the DMZ, excitement replacing the tension of late last year.

    The heavily fortified stretch of land was, until recently, blasting loudspeakers into the North.

    Earlier this week, South Korea suspended their propaganda broadcasts from the DMZ as a gesture of goodwill in the lead-up to the summit. Normally comprised of South Korean pop, radio dramas and news, they were designed to show North Koreans how much the world had moved on, and how better life in South Korea is.

    The changes followed the most significant gesture from the North to date, an announcement last week that the regime would suspend nuclear tests and focus on the economy.

  • Female TV Announcer (through translator):

    As long as there is no nuclear threat and provocation against our nation, we will never use nuclear weapons and under no circumstances will we transfer our nuclear weapons and nuclear technology.

  • Katrina Yu:

    But many, including activist Lee Min Bok, believe North Korea cannot be trusted.

  • Lee Min Bok (through translator):

    It's not because of South Korea's efforts, or because of Kim Jong- un's goodwill. This summit has arisen because of the great external pressure put on North Korea. As soon as this pressure is gone, they will cheat us again.

  • Katrina Yu:

    The defector made two attempts to escape the North before arriving in South Korea in 1995. He's now devoted his life to floating balloons carrying leaflets across the border, weapons in a war for the hearts and minds of the North Korean people, he says.

    Critics say his work is useless, but he points to attempts on his life by the regime as proof of impact. Leaflets are, after all, the reason he's here.

  • Lee Min Bok (through translator):

    This is the best method, this is what I've realized. Before, I was perfectly devoted North Korea citizen. Didn't drink, didn't smoke, or chase girls. I only did what the leader and the party said I needed to do for my country. But after finding one leaflet, I learned of the fraudulent government and I went from one extreme to the other.

  • Katrina Yu:

    In Seoul, many others are also wary of the regime's promises.

  • Man (through translator):

    The point of the summit this week is denuclearization. But North Korea won't give up its weapons so easily.

  • Woman (through translator):

    Denuclearization isn't simple or straightforward, and it won't be fast.

  • Katrina Yu:

    Although Professor Park Inhwi says North Korea has lied over and over again, he has reason for hope, thanks in part to what he calls the Trump effect.

  • Park Inhwi (through translator):

    Trump's administration is very, you know, military-oriented and strong regarding the Korean issue.

  • Katrina Yu:

    For many, the inter-Korean meeting is simply a preview of what's to come.

    For most South Koreans, the real test as to whether the situation with the North will change will be seen after the planned meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Seoul says Washington will be kept closely informed of Friday's developments, with a phone call from South Korea to the White House planned right after the meeting. The topic, no doubt, how to turn any short-term wins into long-term results.

    For the PBS NEWSHOUR, I'm Katrina Yu in Seoul.

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