LOS ANGELES, March 8 (UPI) -- The organs of North Korean refugees are being harvested in China, and the lucrative human organ trade involve Chinese hospitals, private citizens and bounty hunters, a North Korean defector resettled in the United States told UPI Tuesday.
Cho Bo-eol, who heads a "North Korean government-in-exile" in Los Angeles, said a North Korean victim's gallbladder can be sold for as much as $7,000 in the Chinese market, where demand for organs is high.
"North Koreans are illegal aliens in China, so why not?" Cho said, while taking a quick break from standing outside the Chinese consulate, where he and other activists stage weekly protests, condemning Beijing for repatriating North Korean refugees.
Cho, 50, added Chinese bounty hunters snatch North Korean refugees who are hiding in the country, then "cut a deal" with local doctors to extract organs like gallbladders and other vital body parts.
"They share the proceeds from the sales," Cho said. "The victims themselves? They're thrown out onto the streets."
Cho left North Korea in 2000, and migrated to several countries, including South Korea, before permanently seeking U.S. asylum where he felt freer to pursue activism in favor of regime change.
He works with an extensive network of defectors and activists internationally, and is aware of the conditions of the 200,000 North Koreans who are considered illegal aliens in China.
Kim Young-koo, a Los Angeles-based U.S. missionary who previously conducted rescue missions in China, confirmed North Koreans are hunted down then subjected to involuntary surgery.
They are only released after a kidney or a gallbladder is taken out. Though they do not die from the operation, they sustain serious injuries to their internal organs.
"Inside their bodies, their organs are ruptured, damaged," said Kim, who regularly visits northeastern China to make contact with rescue networks.
Kim, a pastor at South Bay Giving Church in Los Angeles, focuses most of his attention to assisting U.S.-based North Korean refugees, who sometimes come to the United States after never setting foot in South Korea, or, like Cho, left the South to seek U.S. asylum.
Kim's daughter, Sarah Cho, is addressing the needs of the defectors through her organization North Koreans in America Collaboration. She told UPI in a phone interview last week more defectors who do find asylum in South Korea are leaving the country, citing discrimination.
But Cho Bo-eol, who arrived in the United States about two years ago, said it was concern for his personal safety that pushed him out of South Korea.
Cho's call for a North Korean government-in-exile was deemed unconstitutional according to South Korean law. He said he and his girlfriend at the time were "threatened" by anonymous callers.
"But life in South Korea was not hard," Cho said.
Cho said he knew the North Korean regime was lying to its people as early as 1986, when he began to listen to Voice of America radio broadcasts from Sinpo, a port city along the country's eastern coast.
The defector said North Korea could not ban the radio transmissions flowing into Sinpo because the regime knew North Korean fishermen needed relatively more accurate weather forecasts in order to do their work and earn money for the leadership.
Listening to U.S. radio "opened a door in his mind." Outside media helped Cho see past propaganda that condemned the United States as a diabolical empire bent on destroying North Korea.
"Here in the United States, people with skills are recognized," Cho said, adding his activism is not opposed by the U.S. government.
"It's not that it is not a good idea," Cho said, referring to the meeting. "It just won't take place."
Cho and Kim agreed North Korea would never agree to denuclearization, and said the future is uncertain in light of recent developments.
"North Korea will never give up nuclear weapons," Kim said.