Christian Journalist Who Visited North Korea, Available for Interviews
By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
KUALA LUMPUR/SEOUL (ANS — Feb. 14, 2017) – A U.S. government source said on Tuesday it strongly believes that North Korean agents murdered the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia.
In the extraordinary case surrounding the mysterious death of Kim Jong Nam, the U.S. government says American authorities have not yet determined exactly how he was killed, according to an unnamed source, who did not provide specific evidence to support the U.S. government’s view.
Reuters is reporting that a South Korean government source also had said earlier that Kim Jong Nam had been murdered in Malaysia. He did not provide further details.
Reuters stated that South Korea’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports, and the country’s intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reuters said that in the United States, there was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Trump administration, which faces a stiff challenge from a defiant North Korea over its nuclear arms program and the test of a ballistic missile last weekend.
According to the news agency, Kim Jong Nam was known to spend a significant amount of his time outside North Korea and had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated state.
In a statement, Malaysian police said the dead man, aged 46, held a passport under the name Kim Chol.
Reuters said Kim Jong Nam has been caught in the past using forged travel documents.
Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters the cause of Kim’s death was not yet known, and that a post mortem would be carried out.
“So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads,” Fadzil told Reuters.
According to Fadzil, Kim had been planning to travel to Macau on Monday when he fell ill at the low-cost terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
“The deceased … felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind,” Fadzil said. “He felt dizzy, so he asked for help at the … counter of KLIA.”
In his statement to Reuters, Fadzil added Kim was taken to an airport clinic where he still felt unwell, and it was decided to take him to hospital. He died in the ambulance on the way to Putrajaya Hospital.
The U.S. government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was possible that Kim Jong Nam had been poisoned. The U.S. source said it could not be ruled out that assassins used some kind of “poison pen” device.
South Korea’s TV Chosun, a cable-TV network, reported that Kim had been poisoned with a needle by two women believed to be North Korean operatives who fled in a taxi and were at large, citing multiple South Korean government sources.
Reuters said it could not independently confirm those details.
The news agency said Malaysia is one of a dwindling number of countries that has close relations with North Korea, which is under tightening global sanctions over its nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, the latest of which took place on Sunday. Malaysians and North Koreans can visit each other’s country without visas.
It added that a phone call to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur late on Tuesday went straight to an answering machine.
Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un are both sons of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011, but they had different mothers.
Kim Jong Nam, the elder of the two, did not attend his father’s funeral. His mother was an actress named Song Hye Rim, and Kim Jong Nam said his father kept his parents’ relationship a secret.
Reuters said the portly and easygoing Kim Jong Nam was believed to be close to his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was North Korea’s second most powerful man before being executed on Kim Jong Un’s orders in 2013.
In an embarrassing 2001 incident, Kim Jong Nam was caught at an airport in Japan traveling on a forged Dominican Republic passport, saying he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He was known to travel to Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, Reuters said.
Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Nam had occasionally been the subject of speculation that he could replace his younger half-brother, the country’s third-generation leader.
“Loyalists may have wanted to get rid of him,” he said.
Reuters reports Kim Jong Nam said several times over the years that he had no interest in leading his country. “Personally, I am against third-generation succession,” he told Japan’s Asahi TV in 2010. “I hope my younger brother will do his best for the sake of North Koreans’ prosperous lives.”
His cousin, Lee Han-young, who defected to South Korea through Switzerland in 1982, was shot and killed by North Korean agents in Seoul in 1997, according to South Korea.
ANS Founder Dan Wooding is one of few Christian journalists to have ever visited North Korea.
He said: “It was in 1994, that I was given another opportunity to visit of all places, North Korea. It was just after the death and funeral of Kim Il-sung, the country’s despotic leader.
“It came about when Dr. Dale Kietzman, the then Chairman of ASSIST, called me and said, ‘Dan, you’ve been almost everywhere — except North Korea. How would you like to go?'”
Wooding said: “Of course I was excited to visit this mysterious country and he told me to fly to Beijing, China, to meet up with Dr. David Cho, a North Korean-born pastor now living in Seoul, who had struck up a friendship with Kim il-sung, having known his mother, and Dr. Kietzman gave me the name of the hotel where he was staying.
He continued: “Being a journalist, it was to my great surprise that I was given a visa by the North Korean Embassy there and was able to join a small delegation of Christians led by Dr. Cho. I was on assignment for the UPI [United Press International] Radio Network who commissioned me to spend a week in this secretive land reporting for their network based in Washington, DC.
“When the three of us arrived at Pyongyang Airport in a rather ancient Russian plane, we were surrounded by North Korean TV cameras and reporters. I had one camera thrust in front of me and the reporter asked me in broken English, ‘Why have you come to North Korea?’”
Wooding said he realized, as a Christian journalist, that this was the chance of a lifetime, so he replied, “I have come to your country to share about the love of Jesus Christ.”
The North Korean reporter looked rather bemused, so Wooding continued, “I am a Christian and would like to see if there are many Christians in your country.”
He added; “After arriving in our hotel room in Pyongyang, the capital, I turned on my TV and was shocked to see myself on the screen giving my interview, so I quickly snapped a picture off the TV, as I thought that no one would believe me that I’d just been on North Korean Television.”
Wooding said that when they were checking into the hotel, he noticed a door slightly ajar, and saw men inside wearing headphones, and had reel-to-reel tapes whirring around that were apparently recording what was being said in the rooms of the few guests there, and also in the dining room. “Thia made us aware that we had to be careful what we said while in the hotel as it was all being recorded,” said Wooding.
He went on to say, “Before I had left the States, I had a chat with Bill Clough, the then religion editor at UPI Radio, and he told me that when it came time to file my daily reports to one of his team in Beijing — he would call me in my room — if I suspected I was being listened to, I should just say to him, ‘Say hello to Bill’s mother in Amarillo,” which meant, ‘Don’t ask me anything; just roll the tape.’. So, for the entire week,. I gave him this password and then gave my report, which, by the way, became stronger each day, I had thought that if they didn’t like what I had said, all they could do was to deport me. However, I now realize that it could have been much worse than that, especially after later reporting on the many Christians from abroad who had been arrested and imprisoned in North Korea.”
During the trip, Wooding and the team were taken to a North Korean church in the capital city and joined in their Sunday morning service. “Again, we were surrounded by cameras and afterwards, we all wondered if this was a ‘real’ church, or if those taking part were actors. By the way, if they were actors, they did a good job,” he said. “It was quite an evangelical service.”
Near the end of his time in the country, Wooding joined his colleagues in visiting the DMZ, which is a de facto border barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half and It was created by agreement between North Korea, China and the United Nations in 1953.
“While there wewere taken around an Anti-American museum where we were told that America had ‘started the Korean war.’ The guide didn’t seem to care if he offended us or not, but we all took it in our stride and just smiled politely,” he said..
“I had been on the South Korean side of the DMZ before and I soon noticed that tourists from the south were photographing us there in the North, probably wondering what a group of Caucasians were doing in North Korea.”
Wooding concluded: “As our little group travelled around North Korea, we were each given a Mercedes to ride in, a driver, and we were accompanied by a ‘spy’ who peppered us with questions about life in the West. It was a trip that I’ll never forget and I still pray each day for the people of this troubled land, and especially for the suffering believers of North Korea. Maybe you could join me, especially as Open Doors in its yearly World Watch List, has again listed North Korea as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world.”
Media wishing to interview Wooding about his insights into this story, please call (949) 472-0974 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Captions: 1) People watch a TV screen broadcasting a news report on the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, February 14, 2017. (Lim Se-young/News1 via REUTERS). 2) ANS founder, Dan Wooding pictured here with Dr. David Cho, a Korean pastor, during their visit to North Korea. They are standing by a huge statue of Kim il-sung in Pyongyang. 3) Dan Wooding on North Korean TV. 4) Dan Wooding in a North Korean church with some of his colleagues. 5) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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