Anchor: Suspicions have surfaced that North Koreans living in Kilju County could be exposed to radiation. Kilju, North Hamgyong Province is where North Korea's nuclear site is located.
Our Bae Joo-yon has testimonies of North Korean defectors from the area.
Report: North Korean defectors from areas near the North’s nuclear test site say they are suffering from symptoms suspected to be due to radiation exposure.
Ms. Lee Jeong-hwa is one of them.
[Sound bite: Lee Jeong-hwa - N. Korean defector from Kilju ]
"Many in our county died in alarming numbers. Most of them died of cancer. We didn't think nuclear tests could have been the cause. We just thought many were dying of starvation or due to poverty. There were also many people in Kilju with tuberculosis, especially after the 1990s. With all this death, we thought the county was haunted but now I realize that all that I saw was the aftermath of nuclear tests. I am sure of it."
The 40 some-year old defector said she had no idea that nuclear tests were being carried out in the region.
[Sound bite: Lee Jeong-hwa - North Korean defector from Kilju County, N. Hamgyong Province]
"None of us had any idea. We don't know anything about nuclear power or that nuclear tests were carried out. Then at one point, all the fish, pine mushrooms and wild vegetables were all gone. You see, Kijlu is famous for its pine mushrooms and pears. But they were nowhere to be seen from a certain point. We didn't think their disappearance had anything to do with a nuclear test. We just thought it was getting harder to live. But now, coming here to South Korea, I realize that radiation exposure resulting from nuclear tests is what caused all the fish and animals to disappear."
Ms. Rhee Yeong-sil, also from Kilju, is in her 60s. Rhee said she and her family suffer from severe headaches.
[Sound bite: Rhee Yeong-sil - N. Korean defector from Kilju]
"Everybody in my family suffers from headaches, including my younger and elder sisters. It's not a simple headache too. We constantly feel nauseous and throw up from time to time because the pain from the headaches is so bad. No medicine works."
Choi Kyong-hee, a defector herself, runs a Non-Governmental Organization, "South & North Development," to help North Koreans exposed to radiation.
[Sound bite: Choi Kyong-hee - head, NGO South & North Development (Korean)]
"Never once, while carrying out nuclear tests in one place repeatedly, did the North Korean government evacuate the people residing in nearby areas or ask for the people's understanding. I was shocked that the international community had not raised issue with the matter."
The Unification Ministry in Seoul said Wednesday that it completed radiation exposure checkups on 30 North Korean defectors coming from areas close to the North’s nuclear test site.
Those who were tested for radiation exposure are volunteers from a group of 114 recent defectors from Kilju County.
The test results are currently being analyzed and will be disclosed to the public later this month.
Bae Joo-yon, KBS World Radio News.