North Korean defectors send home bottles of rice via sea

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North Korean defectors send home bottles of rice via sea

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A group of North Korean defectors and their supporters release around 300 plastic bottles filled with rice grains into the sea off Incheon’s Seokmo Island on Wednesday. The group hopes the tide will take the rice to North Korean land. The defectors’ faces have been blurred to protect their identity. [KIM CHOON-SIK]

INCHEON - A group of North Korean defectors and their supporters released around 300 plastic bottles filled with rice grains into the sea off Seokmo Island here on Wednesday, with the hope that the rice will reach starving North Koreans and help get them through the winter.

Kim Yong-hwa, head of Save North Korea, and Lee Hye-Kyung, head of New Life and an international committee member of the Korean Pharmaceutical Association, led the group of volunteers on the pier. Kim threw in the first two bottles to see if the tide was strong enough to carry the load through to Hwanghae Province, which lies just north of Incheon.

“The tides are perfect!” the volunteers exclaimed.

The group then hurriedly unloaded the 300 PET bottles into the water while taking caution not to spill any of the grain, which they said was crucial for North Koreans’ survival. “We hope starving North Korean children can get a taste of the rice!” the group said with enthusiasm.

One bottle contains 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of rice grains, which can provide one child with several meals. “I really hope [North Korean] children find them,” said one North Korean defector as tears rolled down her face.

A total of 320 kilograms of rice were unloaded on Wednesday. The group had done the same with 500 kilograms of rice on Nov. 16, the day the supermoon raised sea levels to the highest in decades.

“We’re hearing word that North Korean children are eating the rice we’ve sent them,” Kim said with confidence. “Some North Koreans eat raw rice and enjoy snacking on rice grains from their pockets when they’re hungry.”

This is the 13th time the group has sent bottles of rice toward North Korea since Kim started the project last year. The idea, though, has been around for quite some time. Come Back Home, an organization supporting abductees kidnapped to North Korea, came up with the idea after hearing about North Koreans feeding on rice that floated inside bottles from China during the Tumen River floods of 1977 and 1978.

The first attempt to send rice to the North via bottles was in 2008, when a number of organizations donated rice to be dispersed from Goseong County in Gangwon. Some North Korean defectors, who receive free rice from the South Korean government as support, did not hesitate to donate their stock.

North Korean defectors who volunteered to send rice to the North expressed concerns about aid for North Koreans decreasing significantly.

“Most North Koreans feel hopeless every day and forget how important they all are,” Lee said, “so supporting the North is a way to tell them they’re important and deserving of all the help we give. I am also thinking about filling the bottles with medicine next time.”

BY KIM MIN-WOOK [kim.yuna1@joongang.co.kr]

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