This was one of my thoughts, but I didn’t want to say exactly. Capturing Lisa Ling’s sister is too much of a coincidence. I thought it could go deeper but at least someone else is bring up the possibility.
In the following article Nicholas Kristof brings a certain light to this situation.
Another possibility, which I incline to, is that Ling and Lee may have been sold to North Korea by a local guide. If the guide said that it was safe to cross, or that they were still on Chinese territory, they would have believed him. Moreover, by some accounts they were working on a story about human trafficking — there’s a good deal of trafficking of North Korean women and girls into China, into prostitution and to be wives of peasants — and the traffickers could well have tricked them in exchange for a reward from North Korea.
We don’t know the exact truth or the details but he does believe they will be let go.
My hunch is that North Korea will use them for a time as a propaganda victory and then release them to a high-ranking visitor — Al Gore, Bill Richardson or someone else.
Read entire article below:
Laura Ling, Euna Lee and North Korea
Now that my colleague David Rohde has escaped from his Taliban kidnappers, the American journalists who remain imprisoned are Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are the two journalists for Current TV who were arrested on March 17 for crossing illegally from China into North Korea at the Tumen River.
The details of the arrests remain unclear; they have “confessed,” but that is meaningless — who wouldn’t in such circumstances? There have been some suggestions that they wandered accidentally across the border, but that’s not easy to do. I’ve reported three times in that same area along the Tumen, interviewing North Koreans on the Chinese side of the border, and it’s always clear where the border is. That said, people often do cross over deliberately, just inside the border, and there are usually no consequences at all. In 1997, a Times correspondent based in China, Seth Faison, stepped across stones in the Yalu River (a different part of the border with China) to reach a North Korean island. He wrote:
”Have any cigarettes?” asked the head of North Korea’s five-man border guard on Lee Island, a finger of land in the Yalu River dividing North Korea from China. The officer, who gave his name as Park, lay idly on a shady patch of sand a few dozen yards from the border. He did not get up to greet a pair of visitors who stepped on stones to cross a narrow bend in the river from China, and allowed them onto the island because they accompanied a Chinese trader who had given him a pack of Chinese cigarettes the day before, worth 12 cents.
Another possibility, which I incline to, is that Ling and Lee may have been sold to North Korea by a local guide. If the guide said that it was safe to cross, or that they were still on Chinese territory, they would have believed him. Moreover, by some accounts they were working on a story about human trafficking — there’s a good deal of trafficking of North Korean women and girls into China, into prostitution and to be wives of peasants — and the traffickers could well have tricked them in exchange for a reward from North Korea. A couple of years ago, I set up an interview with a trafficker in that border area, but then backed out when he demanded money; the traffickers may realize that the people to demand money from aren’t the journalists but the North Korean officials. And at a time of crisis, when it is undergoing a leadership transition and a confrontation with the West, North Korea would probably pay well for a few extra bargaining chips in the form of American journalists.
Ling and Lee were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp. The conditions in those camps are unbelievably wretched, according to survivors and guards who have escaped (the book “Aquariums of Pyongyang” offers an window into them). But since Ling and Lee will eventually be released, the authorities will treat them more gingerly; perhaps they will be kept in a guest house. North Korea would lose face if they died or turned out to be starving, and that will help them immeasurably. In both my visits inside North Korea, the government has worked so hard to keep foreigners from seeing the real North Korea that I just can’t believe that it would allow Lee and Ling to see anything real even in the context of their punishment.
My hunch is that North Korea will use them for a time as a propaganda victory and then release them to a high-ranking visitor — Al Gore, Bill Richardson or someone else. Gore invested in Current TV, and Richardson has gone to North Korea before to extricate Americans and has a decent relationship with officials there. The problem is that a North Korean freighter is now steaming on the high seas, apparently to Burma, and reputedly carrying weapons. The U.S. should stop it and search it or turn it back, since Burma obviously won’t, but that could easily lead to bullets flying — either at sea or in an incident at the DMZ, or both. If there is such an incident, North Korea may be less likely to release Ling and Lee for the time being.
Then there’s the transition. In the past, North Korean provocations have mostly been about us — they’ve been intended to get our attention, in hopes of working out some kind of a deal. But this time, the provocations may be more about internal North Korean power dynamics, meant to facilitate the rise of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, as the chosen heir. If this is all related to internal politics, then there’s not much we can do. Ambassador Steve Bosworth, the administration’s envoy for North Korea, reportedly has been blocked by North Korea from visiting; that’s a bad sign that this is all about them, not us.
Incidentally, for those who want to learn more about how North Korea ticks, there have been many good books lately. Perhaps the best is Bradley Martin’s exhaustive “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader.” And the Inspector O novels, set in Pyongyang and written by an American intelligence expert on North Korea (who uses the pseudonym James Church), beautifully capture the attitudes of the North Korean officials I’ve met.
And for Ling and Lee, if by some chance this blog post reaches you, courage! We are with you in spirit, and some day this will end. Then you’ll be back with your loved ones, celebrating, like David Rohde. You will come home!