SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean border guards apparently detained an American missionary as soon as he walked into the communist nation in an effort to call attention to Pyongyang’s human rights abuses, an activist said today.
Robert Park, 28, slipped across the frozen Tumen River into the North from China on Christmas Day carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to shut down the country’s political prison camps. There has been no word from him since.
Jo Sung-rae of the Seoul-based activist group Pax Koreana cited a person who witnessed Park crossing into the North as saying that voices were heard on the North Korean side as soon as Park crossed over.
Jo quoted the person, one of two people who guided Park to the crossing, as saying visibility was poor. “But he said he heard people talking loudly when Robert arrived there,” Jo added. “I think they were border guards and Robert was taken into custody immediately.”
Members of Park’s church in Tucson, Ariz., held services Saturday and Sunday night to pray for a safe return, said the Rev. John Benson, the pastor at Life in Christ Community Church.
Park’s father, Pyong Park, quoted his son as saying before the journey he was “not afraid to die, as long as whole world, all every nation pay attention to the North Korea situation, my death is nothing.”
Jo said that two guides, who he described as North Korean defectors, filmed Park’s crossing. But one of them is demanding payment for the footage and is refusing to hand it over.
North Korea’s state-run media has been silent on Park’s case. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said they were aware of the incident but had no details.