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From House Arrest to South Korea's Blue House

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I wore a bulletproof vest for the first time in my life when, in 1985, I was a member of a delegation of human rights observers asked to accompany then-dissident Kim Dae Jung on his return to Seoul, South Korea.

Mr. Kim had spent most of the previous half-decade in exile in the United States for his political opposition to the military dictatorships then in control of South Korea.

I admit that I felt a little self-conscious in my flak jacket. Other than Kim, his wife, Lee Hee Ho, and his bodyguards, I think I was the only one among the dozen or so observers to take the precaution. But as events unfolded, the flak jacket turned out to be a sensible idea.

As our delegation got off the plane at Kimpo International Airport that day in February, a group of 50 plainclothes operatives of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency set upon our group, forcibly separating us from the Kims. While another group of nonuniformed police pushed us against walls or forced us to the ground, the Kims were whisked away to an elevator attached to the passenger exit ramp. They were placed under house arrest and subsequently guarded in their modest home in Seoul.

How fortunes have changed. Yesterday, Kim Dae Jung, long-suffering political dissident and opposition leader, was inaugurated as the democratically elected president of the Republic of Korea.

He assumes office as the first opposition leader chosen by the Korean people to lead their country. Kim takes up residence in the Blue House, (as the presidential residence is known), as a glowing example of dedication to human rights and humane governance.

I first met Kim during the early 1980s when he was an exile in the US. I quickly came to know him as a thoughtful political philosopher who believed that he could build a government in his homeland that would put a premium on freedom, free political discourse, and some measure of free-market capitalism. He nearly had been killed for such ideas.


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