kim's nuclear gamble
kim duk-hong: interview with a north korean defectorHome
who are they?

Kim Duk Hong is one of the highest ranking officials to defect from North Korea. He escaped from North Korea in 1997, first to Beijing and then to Seoul, along with Hwang Jang Yop, the architect of the North Korea regime's ideology known as "Juche," meaning "self reliance." Kim was Hwang's assistant for many years. He is officially barred from talking to the press by the South Korean government, however, FRONTLINE obtained this exclusive interview at an undisclosed location in South Korea. The interview was conducted in Korean and has been translated.

Why did you defect?

When I was 20 years old, I realized something was wrong with North Korea. Only people who had connections could succeed in that society. I was thinking of defecting as far back as 1958.

So you waited more than 40 years before defecting. Why did you take so long?

Before I left, I studied Marxism and Communism. I realized that Kim Jong Il's government is following Marxism literally. At this time, I thought that someone should speak up about this, so I did.

Did you have contact with Kim Jong Il?

It is really hard to contact him. Even people who live in the same area, they report to him and respond to him by fax only. He barely speaks, only at a few parties. A middle class person like me hardly gets a chance to see him.

How did Kim Jong Il control the country?

He controls his administration exclusively. It operates absolutely by his word. It's an autocracy. Although people have been suffering for 50 years, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il used to be like gods. Kim Il Sung used to kill people who didn't like his administration, but nobody blamed him. People thought that it was politicians' fault, not his fault. People have begun to realize that Kim Jong Il is wrong, he is killing people.

From the Clinton administration's point of view, they were able to negotiate a freeze of the nuclear plant at Yongbyon. Didn't that slow the nuclear program?

Of course, I think the Clinton administration was great. The United States solved the problem peacefully. It was historic. [But the North Koreans] resumed the development of nuclear weapons as soon as they signed the Geneva Agreed Framework, even before the ink dried on the paper.

In 1995, the national military industry secretariat went to Pakistan to trade skills in exchange for producing nuclear weapons. They sent engineers to Pakistan after they signed for Geneva Agreed Framework in 1994. They began to talk about nuclear weapons with Pakistan 1995. It is true.

Do you believe that Clinton administration was naive in dealing with Kim Jong Il?

First of all, I think that they didn't know North Korea, Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il. That was their big mistake.

What is Kim Jong Il's ambition?

Firstly he wants to have nuclear weapons. My complaint is that the United States gives North Korea time to work on developing weapon programs. Kim Jong Il doesn't care that people are starving and poor. He spent almost all the money on nuclear weapons.

That's why I'm here. I defected to speak out about the starvation. I left my family, friends, and comrades in North Korea. I don't think that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are human beings. He's working only for his own ambitions, only for himself. If he had a sense of humanity, he wouldn't be this kind of leader.

A new administration in Washington is taking a tougher line in North Korea. Do you think is it proper?

I think that Bush knows how to treat Kim Jong Il. Don't trust Kim Jong Il, never, ever. What Kim Jong Il is doing is producing nuclear weapons to kill people in the world, and providing expertise in nuclear weapon development to countries which are anti-American.

He kills our people, arrests people who are against his administration. He produces drugs. It's a national industry. He kidnaps other people from South Korea, or other democratic countries. He is doing all sorts of bad things, like the devil. Do not trust him, never, ever.

What do you believe the United States can do prevent North Koreans from acquiring weapons?

The only way is to kill Kim Jong Il. Possessing nuclear weapons is not dangerous. But the fact that Kim Jong Il has weapons is dangerous. I think that's why the Bush administration treats Kim Jong Il the way they do. Some people believe the problem can be solved by removing nuclear weapons in Yongbyon. However, if Kim Jong Il is still alive, he will make bombs again. I think that President Bush knows him. He is the only one who understands who Kim Jong Il is.

But there are others who are critics of the Bush administration who believe that Kim Jong Il will be willing to deal away the nuclear program. Do you disagree with this?

I think two things: People who have never experienced their children or relatives being kidnapped from Japan or somewhere else and taken to North Korea, and then killed by Kim Jong Il, they say, "Peace, peace." People without knowledge about North Korea criticize without knowing.

What policy do you suggest? Is war the only way to remove Kim Jong Il from power?

I think the Bush administration is right in being anti-North Korea. Blocking their economy, it's [a] good way.

Some countries send food, medication, and so on, to North Korea. But they shouldn't send these things through Kim Jong Il. I think they would do better to provide it individually, person-to-person, in North Korea by dropping it with a big balloon, rather than provide it through Kim Jong Il. I think it will be more effective. Why do they provide these things through Kim Jong Il's regime?

Everyone wants to escape from North Korea. If Kim Jong Il would open the industry of North Korea, his system would die. North Korean people really want to open up, to trade with other countries, but Kim Jong Il doesn't.

I don't understand why you guys don't try to talk to the people of North Korea rather than to Kim Jong Il. He might not listen to you. If you guys help our people to get out of there, there would be a revolution by people against Kim Jong Il in North Korea. There are lots of defectors from North Korea in China, South Korea. We have connections to people in North Korea, and eventually we could have revolution.

There are a lot of ways to destroy North Korea, Kim Jong Il. If we would really want to destroy Kim Jong Il, we should be brave. If we are afraid of war, I don't think we can have peace. We shouldn't be afraid of war.



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