SEOUL, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- North Korean defectors in the South can now use video chat applications to communicate with their relatives in the North, and China-based brokers play an important intermediary role.
A North Korean defector in Seoul, who spoke to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo under the pseudonym Choe Young-man, has been calling his older brother in North Korea using Skype.
Choe made a call on Monday, to his brother who resides in the North Korean city of Hoeryong in North Hamkyong Province, and used Skype to show his brother the interior of his South Korean home.
Choe said the two are able to communicate, thanks in part to a China-based broker who was able to secretly bring in a South Korean smartphone into Hoeryong near the China border.
"I speak to my older brother once a week, using the video chat application," Choe said.
Choe, who resettled in South Korea 5 years ago, said he took up Skype because he missed his brother. A broker agreed to smuggle in a smartphone for the brother's use in North Korea, and Choe said the broker taught his brother how to use Skype.
Choe said his brother leaves the phone off at all times, unless the two are scheduled to communicate. The network they use to chat is China Telecom, which recently expanded the number of mobile phone base stations in the three "rust belt" northeastern provinces near the North Korea border.
There are now nearly 3 million mobile phone users in North Korea, but North Koreans cannot make international calls or connect to the Internet of the outside world.
Defectors, however, have increased in number in South Korea, where there are now close to 30,000 North Koreans who have resettled with the permission of the government in Seoul.
Voice of America reported some North Koreans are taking their travels further, in order to study in the United States.
Three North Korean defectors are now either studying or planning to enroll at Columbia University, including defector Park Yeon-mi, who recently authored a memoir, In Order to Live, about her escape from North Korea.
Park told VOA North Korea's dictatorship is unlikely to last forever.