- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

SEOUL — Christian supporters from President Bush’s Texas hometown, said to have been instrumental in pressuring the White House to raise concerns over war-ravaged Sudan, have begun another international human rights campaign — this time against North Korea.

Members of the Midland Ministerial Alliance, a network of more than 200 churches in the Texas city of Midland, were in Seoul last month seeking support for their push for improved human rights in the communist North.

“North Korean human rights will be the primary focus that we encourage the community here to actively engage in, to use their influence and to not rest until the lives of North Koreans have changed for much better,” alliance spokeswoman Deborah Fikes told South Korean lawmakers last month.

Reports of torture and public executions are a few of the atrocities that have emerged from the isolated North, raising international concerns. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are thought to be held in prison camps for political reasons, the State Department said in its latest human rights report on the North.

A prominent defector who recently met with Mr. Bush is the centerpiece of the campaign.

Miss Fikes has invited Kang Chol-hwan, author of “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” to a Christian music festival in August in Midland, where he will stay for three weeks to testify about a decade of abuses in a prison camp where he was sent as a child with his family.

“I believe it’s God’s will for me to let people know about the miserable conditions of North Korea’s prison camps,” Mr. Kang told South Korean lawmakers.

Miss Fikes said Mr. Bush’s June 13 White House meeting with Mr. Kang shows that “human rights will be central to any negotiations with North Korea.”

“I would be very surprised if that changes,” she said. “It’s very, very clear that human rights are very important to President Bush personally.”

The defector’s visit to Washington has drawn ire from the North, whose official news agency has called Mr. Kang “human trash” and said Mr. Bush’s speaking to him was like “throwing a wet blanket on the efforts to resume” the nuclear talks.

Miss Fikes described the alliance as a “loosely organized” group without a budget or even a Web site. But the organization based in the “hometown of President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush” — as it boldly advertises on its letterhead — has become a major player in human rights movements at home and abroad, specialists said.

Allen Hertzke, professor of political science and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the Midland group was able to convey concerns about cease-fire violations “directly to the Sudanese government” because of its connection to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Hertzke said the group also was influential in the U.S. Senate’s passage last year of the North Korean Human Rights Act, which provides $24 million a year in humanitarian aid for North Korean refugees.

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