There is much to digest in the September 2nd @latimes Op Ed piece authored by Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
They were captured not on the North Korean riverbank that they crossed over to but rather on the Chinese side of the frozen Tumen as they tried to flee; they apparently mistook the hooting sounds and cell phone calls made by their Chinese-Korean guide (separate from other odd behavior) as a way of communicating with friendly North Korean associates rather than ruthless border guards; and they insist that they went out of their way to destroy evidence and protect the identities of interview subjects and those who helped them, in the latter case despite “rigorous, daily interrogations.”
Although the pair claim that “to this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap,” all signs point to the aforementioned guide – Kim Seong-cheol – being the man responsible for the mother of all @current contretemps. Which begs a new question: Where the hell is he?
When Ling and Lee were released in early August, @ReportersWB called on Chinese authorities to release Seong-cheol, as was cameraman-producer Mitchell Koss shortly after March 17th. The organization designated the Chinese-Korean as a third journalist in Chinese captivity, but that really is a bit of a stretch; a better description, based in part on information gleaned from a February 2009 National Geographic article, would have been former drug smuggler with excellent North Korean connections.
I was told not long ago that Seong-chol‘s brother claims he knows nothing of his sibling’s whereabouts. Is he covering for someone already living off the bounty of having delivered Ling and Lee to North Korea? Perhaps. But the more likely scenario is that the Chinese do not want Seong-chol sharing his story with anyone, at least for the time being.
Update – 01/04/10: Guide Kim Seong-cheol was released from Chinese captivity on October 10th, 2009, after which he fully debriefed Ling–Lee trip sponsor Durihana about what happened at the border. However, my requests for an e-mail interview with Seong-cheol, via Reverend Chun Ki-won at Durihana, were denied.