Hakyung Kate Lee/ABC News

North Korean mother and son defectors die of suspected starvation in Seoul

September 22, 2019 - 12:45 pm
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(SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA) -- A mother and son who defected from North Korea are believed to have died of starvation after their bodies were uncovered two months after they were last seen.

"We are sorry" wailed women in black at a funeral for Han Sung Ok and her 6-year-old son. The women who were mourning were North Korean defectors who had never met the deceased before but they claimed the same death could have occurred to one of them and that it was their fault that the victims died so isolated.

It was near the end of July when Han and her son were found dead in their small, rented apartment. A water meter inspector smelled the stench of their decomposing bodies and notified the janitor.

The bodies were so badly decomposed that the National Forensics Service could not conclusively identify the cause of death after the bodies went undiscovered for over two months, according to police. It is assumed that Han died of starvation.

"A defector mother and son died of starvation in the flourishing democratic Korea. This is nonsensical and heartbreaking," Heo Kwang-il, who leads the North Korean defectors’ emergency committee, read in his eulogy for the mother and son. "Such tragedy took place in the midst of the authorities’ indifference."

Hundreds mourned at the funeral which took place in central Seoul. North Korean defectors, who voluntarily formed an emergency response committee after Han’s death, hosted the ceremony.

Defectors spoke of their guilty conscience for not knowing about a fellow North Korean defector’s hardships in life.

Mourning music and a poetry recital followed the eulogy as mourners offered their apologies to Han and her son. The funeral procession then headed for the presidential office but a barricade that had already been installed prevented them from approaching any further.

"Life has become even more difficult for North Korean defectors, this mother and son dying from starvation in the economically developed country of Korea," Kim Heung Kwang said during a speech in front of the presidential office.

Han entered Seoul 10 years ago as a defector and she gave birth to a son with her Chinese husband who she met before coming to South Korea. The funeral for Han and her son was delayed as the defectors’ emergency committee failed to reach an agreement with authorities on the procedure and size, according to Heo.

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