clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

DEFECTOR'S BELONGINGS REVEAL N. KOREAN HARDSHIP

The North Korean defector wore cotton cloth for lack of socks, a helmet made before he was born, and a track suit to warm himself in the unheated jet fighter he flew across the heavily armed border to South Korea.

South Korean officials held up the pilot's worn-out clothing and aged equipment Saturday as evidence of their rival's economic straits. Before a bank of cameras, the Defense Ministry displayed 58 personal belongings of Capt. Lee Chul Soo, 30, who defected Thursday."Fighter pilots are a privileged class in the North. The fact that the North cannot issue socks to them shows how bad its economic situation is," a ministry spokesman told reporters.

He held up pieces of cotton cloth that Lee wore in place of socks inside his pigskin boots. Footprints were visible on the beige patches.

Lee's pilot helmet was at least 30 years old and his side arm holster and waistband were worn out in spots - indicating that North Korean authorities reissued used items to pilots and other officers.

He wore a track suit under his uniform as underwear to keep warm in his MiG-19 that was built in the 1950s and had no heater.

Lee left a wife, and a son, 5, and a daughter, 3, in the North. Among his belongings was a black-and-white family photo. At a corner of the photo was an inscription that read: "Etched into eternal memories."

South Korean officials said North Korea usually sends family members of defectors to labor camps.

The officials said some of Lee's manuals were handwritten, and Lee reportedly told them that the North has stopped issuing printed manuals.

The pilot earlier said he planned to defect to the South in early May but had to delay the plan because fuel shortages grounded many planes.

"Thanks a million to the (communist) Workers' Party," Lee said upon landing in the South, said ministry officials. He later said he was unhappy in the North because junior officials were promoted over him.

Lee was the first North Korean pilot to defect in 13 years.

More than 100 North Koreans have defected in the past two years, complaining of severe food shortages and other hardships in the reclusive communist state.

Last year's massive flooding has pushed North Korea to the brink of famine, forcing it to request food aid from the international community it normally spurns.

Four civil defense officials were arrested Saturday on charges of failing to sound alarms in Seoul when Lee flew into South Korean air space.

They were accused of turning off an automatic air-raid alarm and ignoring messages warning of the plane's approach to the capital.