South Korea’s President Park urges preparations for mass North defections
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Tuesday told her government to prepare for large-scale defections from North Korea, just days after direct appealing to its citizens to flee their country.
A recent spate of high-profile North Korean defections have provided a propaganda windfall for Seoul, which has spun them into a narrative of a Pyongyang leadership in crisis and riven with descent.
Notable defections have included the North’s deputy ambassador to Britain and a rare, group escape by a dozen waitresses from a North Korean-run restaurant in China.
In an address to mark Armed Forced Day earlier this month, Park had vowed to “keep the road open” for future escapees and urged North Koreans to “come to the bosom of freedom in the South”.
Pyongyang’s response was to call Park a “bare-faced and impudent bitch” in a commentary carried by the ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Park reiterated her defection appeal, and stressed the importance of preparing the ground for any new arrivals.
“Defectors are like unification that has arrived early, and a test bed for unification,” Park said.
“I hope we can swiftly secure sufficient system and capacity to accommodate North Korean citizens who come seeking freedom,” she added.
The government currently runs two resettlement centres for defectors with a combined capacity of around 1,100 people.
South Korea’s top-selling Chosun Ilbo reported on Saturday that the government was planning a two trillion won (US$1.8 billion) project for building a defector camp that would hold up to 100,000 people.
Citing an unnamed government official, the report said closed-down schools and new buildings would be used to accommodate an influx of North Korean refugees that could be triggered by any sudden shift in the dynamics of the North-South border.
South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, declined to confirm the report.
Ties between the two Koreas are at the lowest ebb since the height of cold war in the 1970s, with Pyongyang test-firing more than 20 missiles and carrying out two nuclear tests this year alone.
Over the years, nearly 30,000 North Koreans have fled poverty and repression in their country and settled in the South.