BEIJING // A US Christian human rights activist, who is alleged to have received a message from God to redeem North Koreans, entered North Korea from China carrying a letter to the paramount leader, Kim Jong Il, that calls for attention to human rights conditions there, South Korean media and activists said yesterday. Observers and other human rights activists expressed doubts over the effectiveness of his illegal border-crossing and worried about the consequences of his interrogation in North Korea, which could lead to raids on missionaries working underground in China.
Robert Park, 28, from Tucson, Arizona, crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea from China on Christmas Day. As he crossed the border, he shouted, "I am an American citizen. I am bringing God's love," his fellow activists who watched and videotaped his entry said, according to the reports. "Robert Park is out of contact now but we got a tip-off that he is alive and being held by North Korean authorities for questioning," one of Mr Park's colleagues told Agence France-Presse yesterday on condition of anonymity.
North Korea has yet to confirm it has Mr Park in custody. A letter Mr Park wrote to the North Korean leadership, before his departure circulated on South Korean websites yesterday, and was posted by Cho Sung-rae, one of Mr Park's fellow activists in Seoul. In the letter, Mr Park wrote to Mr Kim: "I proclaim Christ's love and forgiveness towards you today. "Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive. Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today, and allow care teams to enter to minister healing to those who have been tortured and traumatised," Mr Park said in the letter, written in both Korean and English.
Observers and many Christian activists are questioning the merit of Mr Park's unauthorised border crossing to North Korea. Some even have raised questions regarding his mental state. "It's a strange and inexplicable action," said Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based lawyer who has been involved in raising awareness on North Korean human rights conditions. Citing individuals who know Mr Park, Mr Stanton said: "Mr Park seems to be an exceptionally difficult person to explain. He was shouting to North Korean soldiers as he crossed the border, proclaiming religious messages to them and offering forgiveness to Kim Jong Il. And I guess he claims to be a seer. Almost like a Christian version of a shaman, maybe.
"I know a lot of very dedicated, very deeply faithful Christian activists who are trying to help North Korean people in ways that are constructive and that have some reasonable prospect of success. Mr Park's method has no reasonable prospect of success - Aside from generating a lot of heat, it won't do any good in spreading human rights awareness," he added. Suh Seok-gu, who along with Mr Park staged protests in downtown Seoul on December 9 and 10 to raise awareness of human rights conditions in North Korea, said in an interview: "When I was with Robert, I saw him praying for hours and hours with uncommon intensity and devotion. And I got this strong conviction that - this is the person chosen by God."
Tim Peters, an activist in Seoul who knows Mr Park, tried to persuade him against the plan, which he characterised as "reckless". "I found out about Robert's plan three days before he left for China," he said in an interview. "By that time, however, he already turned off his cellphone and was not responding to e-mails any longer. "I completely acknowledge that Robert Park's heart was very much in the right place, which I have to make very clear. But I personally disagree whether that will necessarily be an effective way."
With Mr Park in custody, observers said, North Korean authorities will want to extract any information he may have about missionaries in China and others who work underground helping North Korean refugees. "He knows activists in China and throughout north-east Asia," Mr Peters said. firstname.lastname@example.org