WASHINGTON - In an unusual series of in-depth interviews, North Korean asylum-seekers who stormed the Spanish embassy in Beijing this week told Radio Free Asia (RFA) they would rather commit suicide than return to life under Kim Jong-Il's Stalinist government. One asylum-seeker, a former army officer who identified himself as Kim In-Chol, said he had attempted suicide three times after he, his wife, and eight-year-old daughter were arrested in China. "It was near the Chinese border, and we were detained in a Chinese border jailhouse," he told RFA�s Korean service. "I tried to commit suicide. First, I did not eat anything for a week, then I took 22 tranquilizers." "I was moved to a hospital, but the hospital said I looked as if I would die, so they let us go-me, my wife, and child. Later we were sent to Domun Border military jail but moved to the security unit. But the security unit said they were busy with other trials, and they let us out after one day." The 25 North Koreans arrived in Manila on Friday en route to South Korea, a day after they stormed past guards at the Spanish Embassy in Beijing in what appears to be the largest North Korean mass defection since the 1950-53 Korean War. The group comprises six families and two orphaned girls. Many claimed to have escaped to China only to be forcibly repatriated in the past. South Korean aid groups and other supporters of the asylum-seekers say there may be hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in hiding in northeastern China. The Beijing government, a neighbor and Communist ally to North Korea, regards the asylum-seekers as economic migrants and routinely sends them back. Another asylum-seeker, 18-year-old Kim Hyang-sun, said she and her 15-year-old brother had fled their home in Danchon city, South Hamgyong Province, after both of their parents starved to death. The two siblings walked from house to house, begging for food, and realized in February that they had crossed into China. The mainstay of her family's diet, Kim said, was porridge made from boiled grass. The North Koreans were aided in their escape by the German doctor Norbert Vollertsen, who was expelled from North Korea in December 2000 for publicizing the human rights violations he witnessed while working in North Korea. He later published a book based on his experiences there, Diary of a Mad Country. Kim Sung-Sook, a university-educated mother of three, said it was primarily North Korea's dire economic situation that had prompted her to flee. She and her husband said they had carried cyanide with them into China to commit suicide rather than face repatriation. "It was hard to live (in North Korea)," she said. "But the society also is not free. People live in bondage-you aren't allowed to see or to hear. I think all of North Korea is one jail without ... bars." North Korea's economy has been in freefall since the collapse of the former Soviet Union. In its annual human rights report, issued earlier this month, the State Department estimated that between several hundred thousand and 2 million people have died from starvation and related diseases since North Korea was stricken by drought in 1995. Thousands of others have meanwhile fled their homes. "The government's human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses," the State Department report said, citing numerous extrajudicial killings and disappearances. RFA's complete Korean-language coverage is available at


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