S. Korea Making Efforts to Locate Missing Pastor

The South Korean government said Saturday it is making efforts to determine the whereabouts of a Korean-American pastor and six North Korean defectors who were accompanying him on their escape route through Southeast Asia, according to local news agencies.

Late last month, the wife of Seattle-based Park Joon-jae, or Jeffrey Park, reported that she lost contact with her husband—a former U.S. businessman who took up missionary work to assist Northern refugees in China five years ago.

"At the moment we are trying to check all the pertinent information before coming up with a detailed plan," said a ministry official, as reported by the Seoul-based Yonhap News. However, the official said a lack of information was hampering the government's move to verify or discredit media reports on the matter.

Chun Ki-won, a representative of Park's ministry in Seoul, said that one of the six defectors called on Jan. 16 to say the group had made it across the Myanmar-Laotian border with the exception of Park, before the phone rang off mid-sentence.

The representative speculated that Park and perhaps the rest of his party might have been caught by Chinese security forces that operated "freely" in the Southeast Asian border areas, if not apprehended by criminal elements operating out of the region notorious for drug trafficking.

According to sources, more than 6,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953, including over 1,860 from last year.

Most of the people fleeing the impoverished North do so by taking the circuitous route through Southeast Asia since the land border of the two Koreas, divided since 1945, is sealed off by wire fences, land mines and roughly a million troops as the two sides remain technically at war.