January 18, 2015 / 8:38 AM / in 3 years

North Korean defector, subject of escape bestseller, changes his story

SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean defector whose escape from a brutal prison camp was the subject of a bestselling book has changed key parts of his story and on Sunday apologized for misleading people.

Shin Dong-hyuk poses before a news conference to present the book "Escape from Camp 14" by former Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden in Paris May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

“Escape from Camp 14”, written by former Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden, brought Shin Dong-hyuk international fame.

Shin, one of the best-known defectors from reclusive North Korea, said on his Facebook page he had tried to hide parts of his past.

“To those who have supported me, trusted me and believed in me all this time, I am so very grateful and at the same time so very sorry to each and every single one of you,” Shin said.

He also said he may end his campaign to shut down prison camps in North Korea, which was instrumental in bringing a U.N. resolution urging the referral of the country to an international criminal tribunal.

But Michael Kirby, an Australian judge who headed a U.N. commission of inquiry that documented what it said were crimes against humanity committed by Pyongyang, said the findings of the year-long investigation stood.

“Our concern focuses on 70 years of grave human rights violations. The COI (commission of inquiry) had hundreds of witnesses, many online, so they can be judged by the whole world,” Kirby told Reuters in a email reply from Sydney.

“Collectively, their testimony is compelling.”

On his website, Harden said he had contacted Shin, “pressing him to detail the changes and explain why he had misled me”. Harden added that he had given the information to the Washington Post, for which he originally wrote about Shin in 2008.

Neither Harden nor Shin gave details about the changes.

Shin had said in the book that he was tortured at age 13 after a failed attempt to flee Camp 14, where he was born into captivity. He finally escaped in 2005, climbing over the body of a fellow inmate who died on an electrified fence during their planned escape.

He said he had informed a prison guard of a plan by his mother and brother to escape Camp 14 and both were executed.

According to the Washington Post, Shin told Harden that he had been moved from Camp 14 to a different camp, Camp 18, and it was there that he betrayed his mother and brother.

He also told Harden that he had escaped the prison and fled to China, where he was caught and sent back to the North, the newspaper said. In his original account, he said he had lived all his life in Camp 14 until his escape.

The Washington Post cited Harden as saying he would seek to correct the book, but that he was convinced key elements were correct.

Shin, who has lived in South Korea, could not be reached for comment. A recorded message showed he has cancelled his mobile phone subscription.

Last October, after Shin’s father appeared in a North Korean video seeking to discredit him, Shin said his father had been taken hostage by the Pyongyang authorities, perhaps in an attempt to silence Shin.

Reporting by Jack Kim and Sohee Kim in Seoul and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Nick Macfie and Kevin Liffey

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