September 1st, 2009
09:46 PM ET

Hostages of the Hermit Kingdom

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/08/05/nkorea.journalists/art.family.afp.gi.jpg caption="The families of Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling greet them Wednesday in California. "]

Laura Ling and Euna Lee
For The Los Angeles Times

We arrived at the frozen river separating China and North Korea at 5 o'clock on the morning of March 17. The air was crisp and still, and there was no one else in sight. As the sun appeared over the horizon, our guide stepped onto the ice. We followed him.

We had traveled to the area to document a grim story of human trafficking for Current TV. During the previous week, we had met and interviewed several North Korean defectors - women who had fled poverty and repression in their homeland, only to find themselves living in a bleak limbo in China. Some had, out of desperation, found work in the online sex industry; others had been forced into arranged marriages.

Now our guide, a Korean Chinese man who often worked for foreign journalists, had brought us to the Tumen River to document a well-used trafficking route and chronicle how the smuggling operations worked.

There were no signs marking the international border, no fences, no barbed wire. But we knew our guide was taking us closer to the North Korean side of the river. As he walked, he began making deep, low hooting sounds, which we assumed was his way of making contact with North Korean border guards he knew. The previous night, he had called his associates in North Korea on a black cellphone he kept for that purpose, trying to arrange an interview for us. He was unsuccessful, but he could, he assured us, show us the no-man's land along the river, where smugglers pay off guards to move human traffic from one country to another.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • North Korea
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Eugenia - San Francisco

    Very glad to see they are home!

    September 2, 2009 at 10:34 am |
  2. Michael - Newport Beach, CA

    I'm so glad they are home. I love it that they can reunite with family. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. There are so many sad stories of our US citizens that don't make it back, this is a good one! YAH!

    September 2, 2009 at 3:54 am |
  3. zoe

    Hmm...the ending leaves me wondering for more. Impressed by their story of survival and courage to reveal the darkness behind slave trade. But I am left asking if there is a book brewing behind this as well. I think that milking an experience such as theirs at the cost of those who helped get them out and the attention that had to be given to their rescue, would be shameful even if they feel they need to tell their story. Just not right IMO.

    September 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm |
  4. Sam

    Thank you so much for posting this...their story still continues to amaze me.

    September 1, 2009 at 10:30 pm |