FOUR North Korean defectors who lived in the shadow of Kim Jong-un’s nuclear test site claim their community was destroyed by radioactive fallout.
Locals in Kilju County have reported the catastrophic health consequences they have suffered at the hands of their dangerous neighbor.
The mountainous region is home to North Korea’s notorious Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where there have been at least six explosions.
Four defectors who unenviably lived near the partially destroyed base claim that Kim’s self-serving nuclear experiments have decimated the rural village of Gilju-gun.
During an event marking the 20th annual North Korea Freedom Week in Seoul, South Korea, former residents testified about the horrific impact of ongoing nuclear testing on locals.
The country continued to taunt the West over the years by flexing its nuclear capabilities, firing hydrogen bombs, fearsome warheads and ballistic missiles.
The defectors claim this left their main water supply contaminated with radiation, essentially poisoning the community.
Kim Sun-bok and three others, who used the pseudonyms Lee Young-ran, Nam Gyeong-hoon and Kim Jeong-geum, said at the press conference that several generations have been plagued by deadly diseases.
They claimed that many victims believed they were suffering from a “ghost illness” after experiencing a range of bizarre symptoms.
Kim Sun-bok said they relied on the Namdaecheon Stream, which flows down from Punggye-ri, for drinking water. YNA Reports.
He said: “Until the nuclear test site was built and soldiers installed barriers and controlled movement, Punggye-ri was a rural village with good water and beautiful scenery, but now there is no way to find it.”
“Since when did the number of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and those with tuberculosis and dermatitis increase?”
In addition to infectious diseases and excruciating skin diseases, Sun-bok said people also suffered from anxiety and mental defects.
“Without a clear diagnosis, they had a spirit illness and there were rumors that they should visit a shaman and use a talisman.”
Lee Young-ran was living in Punggye-ri in 2013 when North Korea conducted its third underground nuclear weapons test.
He said that although villagers were dying of mysterious illnesses, he only learned of the effects of the nuclear tests when he fled the totalitarian regime to South Korea.
Young-ran said at the conference, “It is no exaggeration to say that most residents of Gilju-gun were exposed to radiation because they used Punggye-ri water for drinking.”
“[After the nuclear test]One by one, they were diagnosed with tuberculosis in the hospital and could not survive the disease for more than four years.”
He said his own son was tragically diagnosed with tuberculosis and died because residents of Giju-gun were reportedly banned from entering Pyongyang if they were radioactively contaminated.
The father claimed he had sent his child money to go to a hospital in the capital, but barbaric rules stopped him.
The groundbreaking conference marked the first time a North Korean defector testified publicly about the human cost of the country’s nuclear tests.
Experts have already warned about the environmental impact that has plagued Punggye-ri since the first nuclear experiment in 2006.
Human rights group Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) released a report in February claiming that radioactive material leaking from the nuclear test site had been transferred through groundwater.
It has been claimed that this could be spread to hundreds of thousands of people living in close proximity.
Defectors had previously claimed that after the sixth and largest nuclear test in 2017, around 80 percent of the region’s trees had died while all underground wells had dried up.
It triggered the equivalent of a magnitude 6.3 earthquake – 10 times stronger than any previous test.
That same year, a tunnel at the underground nuclear facility reportedly collapsed, killing up to 200 people.
The director of South Korea’s meteorological agency warned in 2017 that further testing at Punggye-ri “could lead to the collapse of the mountain and the release of radioactivity into the environment.”
Chinese scientists claimed that if the mountain collapsed, nuclear fallout could spread across “an entire hemisphere.”
The Ministry of Unification this year launched an investigation into radiation levels from North Korea’s nuclear test sites.
Human rights groups criticized the lack of media coverage of the issue, which they described as a “deplorable human rights situation.”
Lee Shin-hwa, Ambassador for International Cooperation for Human Rights of North Korea, said: “In particular, the leak of radioactive material from the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the health risks to residents in the Gilju-gun area are representative examples.”
The Punggye-ri nuclear test site was closed in April 2018, after which Kim invited a number of foreign journalists to witness the demolition.
They watched as a network of tunnels designed to demonstrate Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization exploded.
But last year satellite images appeared to show construction work was still underway at the site, suggesting Kim was preparing for another test.