North Korea has systematically kidnaped foreigners -- mainly women -- to serve intelligence functions and other state purposes, according to a South Korean movie star who was kidnaped and held in North Korea for eight years.
Choi En Hui, whose kidnaping from Hong Kong in 1978 and escape in 1986 were sensational stories in Asia and the West, said in an interview last week that she met a Jordanian woman and a Chinese woman in North Korea who had been kidnaped and that she learned indirectly of a French woman and a Malaysian woman who were being held against their will.
Choi and her movie director husband, Shin Sang Ok, who was kidnaped separately to North Korea in 1978 and shared much of her ordeal and her eventual escape, said their experiences convinced them of the truth of the bizarre story of a North Korean agent charged with sabotaging a South Korean airliner, who was allegedly trained to talk and act Japanese by a Japanese woman who had been kidnaped while playing on a Japanese beach.
The agent, a 26-year-old woman who gave her name as Kim Hyon Hui, is being held by South Korean authorities for planting a time bomb aboard a South Korean airliner Nov. 29, which killed 115 people during a flight from Baghdad, Iraq, to Seoul. Kim, who had been on an earlier leg of the flight, was traveling on a false Japanese passport and pretended to be Japanese.
The agent, accompanied by an older man posing as her father, said she was trained in Japanese language and customs at a house outside Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, from April 1981 to March 1983 by a Japanese woman who had been kidnaped to North Korea.
Japanese authorities have launched an investigation centering on the mysterious disappearance of three women from beaches on the Japan sea, which faces Korea, on July 7, July 31 and Aug. 12, in 1978.
Choi, who was among South Korea's most celebrated actresses, was kidnaped from Hong Kong in January 1978.
Director Shin was kidnaped in July 1978, from Hong Kong while searching for Choi.
They were held separately in North Korea until 1983, with Choi in "safe houses" and other places of indoctrination and Shin in prison for seeking repeatedly to escape.
The movie couple said they were reunited in March 1983, by Kim Chong Il, the son and heir apparent to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. The younger Kim, a devoted movie buff with a private collection of more than 20,000 films, asked the famous couple to help him create a first-rate film industry in the North. They produced seven films while awaiting a chance to escape, which they did while on a North Korean-sponsored visit to Vienna in March 1986.
The actress and director, still under Central Intelligence Agency protection after applying for permanent residency in the United States, are living in seclusion outside the Washington area. Last week's interview was arranged by the State Department, where a spokesman said their story is considered credible but that the department has obtained no information about the mysterious disappearances of the women cited by Choi.
North Korea, one of the world's most secretive communist nations, has never acknowledged kidnaping the couple. However, North Korea lavishly praised the films the couple made while in North Korea, one of which won for Choi the best actress award at the Moscow film festival. North Korea has filed suit in a Vienna court for return of $2.3 million that was in a film-production account controlled by Shin and Choi when they escaped. The money is now frozen.
Choi and Shin charged in interviews in 1986 that Kim Chong Il, among the most mysterious and powerful figures in North Korea, had ordered their kidnaping and met Choi at the dock when she was taken off the kidnap boat near Pyongyang in January 1978 -- 10 years ago this month.
Kim Chong Il was accused by the woman agent being held in Seoul of ordering the bombing of the South Korean airliner as a means of destablizing the South and causing problems for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Seoul. Last Wednesday, the State Department, citing "compelling evidence" supporting the airline bombing confession, added North Korea to the list of countries practicing international terrorism and withdrew a recent U.S. gesture of conciliation.
In an interview last week, Choi produced photographs of Kim Chong Il and North Korean intelligence officials greeting her at the dock, and of meetings with Kim Chong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung.
Choi said the pictures were taken by North Korean officials and presented to her as souvenirs.
The actress also said she secretly tape recorded part of a 1983 meeting that she and her husband had with Kim Chong Il, in which he implicitly accepted responsibility for their kidnaping. The couple said the photographs and tape recordings will be presented in the Vienna court case.
According to portions of the tape transcript the couple made available, the North Korean heir apparent said, "I told the comrades in operations that I need both of you. And these comrades executed their plan." At another place, Kim was quoted as saying, "Who is the best in South Korea? Director Shin, of course. First, he is North Korea-born. Good. Let's bring him over here. But I think there might be some problem. So we brought Miss Choi first."
Choi said that while living in safe houses in a heavily guarded area north of Pyongyang, she met a Jordanian woman and a Chinese woman from the Portuguese colony at Macao, both of whom had been taken to North Korea against their will and both in their early 20's.
The Chinese woman told of being lured to a Macao beach and kidnaped in boat to North Korea, a similar situation to that of Choi and Shin. Choi said the Macao woman, who said she was kidnaped in mid-1978, later was put to work teaching Chinese to selected North Korean women in pairs of two, according to a report she heard while still in captivity.
Choi said she also received word while in North Korea of a French woman who was lured to the North by a Korean fiance who then disappeared. Choi said the French woman vigorously -- but unsuccessfully -- demanded to be released. Choi said she also had heard of a Malaysian woman in captivity under similar circumstances, but did not know details.
In some cases, the couple said, North Korea arranged to bring family members there to improve the lives of kidnaped persons.
The couple said North Korean officials offered to bring up some of their children living in South Korea, presumably by abducting them, and said it would be "no problem" if this would make the couple more comfortable. Choi and Shin said they declined.