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S. Korea bars secret video of the North

A tape of a public execution, smuggled into South Korea, is kept off the air.

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On a bleached and scratchy video image smuggled out of Kim Jong Il's closed regime, blindfolded prisoners are tied to white posts on a rocky landscape, shot three times, and dragged away. The rare video footage of summary executions in North Korea - a practice considered routine in the North but never captured on film - was taken by hidden camera March 1 and 2, and smuggled through China to South Korea.

At the time, refugee groups in Seoul were ecstatic. It looked like a human rights slam-dunk: Refugees from the North have long described summary executions - public spectacles where prisoners are shot moments after a death sentence is proclaimed. The shootings are a form of social control via terror, experts say.

Yet in a twist not anticipated by underground groups that carried off the filming, South Korean TV authorities have not let the video be broadcast. The tape has been aired worldwide; Japan recently aired three exhaustive reports.

But due to intense though indirect pressure by Seoul officials, the North Korean execution tapes, purportedly of "middlemen" who help refugees escape to China, are not yet available for viewing by Koreans in the South. The indirect censure adds to frustration among those documenting the gulags and torture in the North. They charge indifference in the South to evidence of manifold suffering by ethnic siblings across the demilitarized zone.

It also raises anew questions about a five-year policy in Seoul of studiously avoiding acts that might upset Pyongyang, for fear of harming fragile North-South relations. South Korea's ambivalence about a get-tough policy with North Korea may also factor into the mechanics of the six-party talks over the North's recently declared nuclear program.

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