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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Human guinea pigs
North Korea flag

We hear a terrible tale from a modern day Dr Mengele.

A North Korean scientist says he used experimental chemical weapons on prisoners and stood there taking notes while they died in agony.

Dr Kim tells us: "The purpose of this experiment was to determine how long it takes for a human being to die - we wanted to determine how much gas was necessary to annihilate the whole city of Seoul."

Newsnight's Olenka Frenkiel reports.

KWON HYOK, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR(Translation):
I watched an entire family being killed.

OLENKA FRENKIEL:
Six months ago this defector told us in 1990 he saw political prisoners, men, women and children killed in chemical experiments in North Korea.

KWON HYOK (Translation):
They were put in the suffocation chamber, I saw them suffocated to death. The experiment goes on until the last person dies. The scientists observe the process from above, through glass.

FRENKIEL:
His testimony was dismissed as fantasy, not only by his former masters the Communist North Koreans, but also by the intelligence agencies in his new home South Korea. Now there is a new witness. Dr Kim, a research chemist, defected from the north two years ago. He has relatives there and fears for their safety if his face is shown. He didn't just see the experiments, he says, he conducted them.

DR KIM, FORMER NORTH KOREAN RESEARCH CHEMIST:
(Translation): Experimentation on the human body started in 1979 for me. I participated in the murder of people.

FRENKIEL:
He too describes glass cubicles where political prisoners were gassed to death.

DR KIM (Translation):
The front, side and ceiling are made of glass. Here is a glass window, which you can open and close. When the prisoners arrived they looked half dead, due to torture and malnutrition. The victims were sat on a small mat, right here.

FRENKIEL:
He says he was one of three research scientists working with the blessing of North Korea's leader and all powerful Workers Party.

DR KIM:
Party officials could observe the process from this area. I was in front, then the victim was sitting on the mat. The victim was like someone put inside a bottle. When the gas is applied to humans a vapour forms on the skin and they become itchy, then they had difficulty breathing, and began to groan and shout.

FRENKIEL:
One purpose was to examine the victim's mental state.

DR KIM (Translation):
We would ask him questions to determine his state of mind. We kept him talking. My question was, "are you hungry?" he could not answer. We watched him dying. He answered the other researchers. By the time he came to my question he was barely audible. The first one took three and half hours to die. The second victim took two and half hours.

FRENKIEL:
The poison he developed was called NP100, cyanide mixed with another compound.

DR KIM (Translation):
The poison liquid is for killing people. First it paralyses the central nervous system, then the blood coagulates, then the heart stops, then mental disorder comes. These were the medical effects we witnessed

FRENKIEL:
As far as we know neither defector has heard the other's testimony. The scenes they describe are remarkably similar, though 11 years apart. This is what our first defector said he saw in 1990.

HYOK (Translation):
This is the room and these walls are all made of glass. This is all sealed. The injection tube comes down through the unit and is attached like this.

FRENKIEL:
And this from Dr Kim, 11 years earlier.

DR KIM (Translation):
The injection tube is installed in the cubicle. When we press the button on the machine the compressor injects gas into the cubicle which is sealed airtight. Through this pipe gas is being injected.

FRENKIEL:
In both cases the victims of these human experiments were political prisoners, dissidents suspected of disloyalty to the leadership in the north.

DR KIM (Translation):
In a country like North Korea, when the state tells you what to do, you are supposed to follow orders. Now when I think of the death of that political prisoner, I feel like a war criminal. The purpose of this experiment was to determine how long it takes for a human being to die when X amount of gas is put into X Cubic metres of space. Since this was for military purposes we wanted to determine how much gas is necessary to annihilate the whole city of Seoul.

FRENKIEL:
Fear of chemical attack from the Communist north has the city of Seoul accustomed to regular civil defence drills. With North Korea's nuclear programme again threat, the relationship is now more sensitive than ever. But today, South Korea's policy to the north has changed. Since South Korea embraced democracy and abandoned its dictatorship a decade ago it has pursued a policy of constructive engagement with the north. It means rather than being North Korea's deadly Cold War enemy it is fast becoming its strongest ally, with the victims of its human rights abuses ignored. That means talks of gas chambers and human experimentation is not encouraged here in the south.

SHIN EON-SANG, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR UNIFICATION POLICY SOUTH KOREA (Translation):
Defectors sometimes exaggerate. The authenticity of the evidence is difficult to assess.

FRENKIEL:
Today North Korea is emerging from isolation after years of famine and shortages. Foreigners who visit the capital Pyongyang are charmed by the Communist theme park. But behind this fašade is a North Korea visitors don't see. Recent evidence has revealed a network of secret prison camps, with hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, not just dissidents, but their entire families. Here starvation, torture and murder are said to be routine. Our original defector said he was a security guard at one of these prisons. But today, his banner reads "is it a crime to tell the truth about North Korea." His complaint is against the South, which he claims has tried to gag him.

HYOK (Translation):
From the day it was shown on the BBC, I have been harassed by the National Intelligence Service. I just told the truth. I don't understand why they are doing this. They want to stop defectors like me to stop telling the truth about the north, to stop talking to the media. After I told the BBC the truth about North Korea and I witnessed human experimentation, I had been victimized. They told me not to speak of it. I have been refused a passport and cannot travel abroad.

FRENKIEL:
He and Dr Kim have had their passports cancelled and have been told not to talk.

DR KIM (Translation):
South Korean Government officials told me not to talk about this with outsiders. The South Korean Government does not want me to be interviewed by you. They said to me, "we are becoming friends with the north, if you raise this issue now, you will harm this process, then the other nations will take advantage of the controversy and become aggressive to us. Just pretend you don't know anything about this."

FRENKIEL:
The South Korean Government denies its intelligence agency silences defectors in order to suppress the story. They say North Korean defectors are notoriously unreliable.

EON-SANG (Translation):
Judging from my long experience, having dealt with the north-south relationship, their claims are in most cases exaggerated.

FRENKIEL:
It is a very serious charge, the testing of chemical poisons on political prisoners, in gas chambers - it is a horrifying idea. Do you believe it?

EON-SANG (Translation):
It is very difficult to give you a definite answer to that question.

FRENKIEL
You have meeting with the north every few days, have you ever asked to inspect their facilities?

EON-SANG (Translation):
We have not proposed to the north to see their facilities. They would have no need to accept our proposal even if we did. The north denies the allegation.

FRENKIEL:
You are supportive of North Koreans, you help them, you provide aid, you have economic ties, you have regular talks, why have you not challenged them on this very serious issue?

EON-SANG (Translation):
We have just begun a process of reconciliation after 50 years of confrontation between the north and south. If we focus on that too much it will harm the progress of north-south relations.

FRENKIEL:
So is a terrible crime being ignored, or could these men have fabricated their evidence. They both insist they've told the truth. Without access to the sites it is impossible to prove their claims.

DR KIM (Translation):
I have nothing to gain by fabricating stories for the BBC. I only hope for North Korea to change and not to kill its people in such a hideous way

FRENKIEL:
His testimony has been examined by Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology and an expert in chemical warfare at Leeds University. This is his opinion.

PROFESSOR ALASTAIR HAY, ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS:
The science seems to fit together. And in 1979 it was probably original, pioneering research. It doesn't seem to me it has been invented. Why go into this level of detail? Why run the risk of getting it wrong and being exposed? The chemical that was being made is one called Para Cyano Nitrobenzene. There is very little known about it and the description he gives of the effect it would have on individuals do fit so my feeling is it is probably correct.

FRENKIEL:
Today South and North Korea are united in one aim. What they both dread is the collapse of the northern regime with the economic chaos that would bring. Here is a thought to excite real conspiracy theorists. Could the mere rumour of human experimentation be an element of fear to keep the lid on in the north? One thing is sure, is rumour is rife. While few North Koreans claim actually to have seen the experiments they all seem convinced the allegation is true. Like this former prison guard. He never saw them himself, but in his camp where he worked he says it was common knowledge.

AHN MYUNG CHUL, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (Translation):
Everyone knows about chemical weapons testing. I saw political prisoners being transported. My commanding officer said, "They are the people you are going to guard for ten years. If they attempt to escape or resist you can kill them. Several of them will go for human experimentation. If you help them escape you will share their fate."

FRENKIEL
Now having escaped the northern regime the defectors feel betrayed by a free world that prefers not to hear or believe them.

DR KIM:
Regardless of what the South Korean Government says, I will speak out. They shouldn't pretend they don't know about it.

FRENKIEL:
North Korea is changing but the regimes grip on the minds of its people remains unequalled, only after its collapse will proof emerge whether these gas chambers are real or a horrific fiction used to subdue a terrified people to the end.


This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

WATCH AND LISTEN
Newsnight spoke to
a North Korean scientist who says he experimented on prisoners with chemical weapons



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