The photo comes from U.S. army deserter Robert Jenkins, who spent 39 years in North Korea and was released just last year.
It seems, at first glance, like a typical family snapshot. Jenkins sits beside his wife and oldest child on a beach in North Korea. But the new and potentially explosive information concerns a woman in the left-hand corner of the frame. Jenkins says she is a Thai national who was kidnapped by North Korean agents from Macau, near Hong Kong, in 1978.
If what Jenkins says is true, it would represent the first photographic evidence that North Korea abducted ordinary citizens from Asian countries other than Japan and South Korea.
The abduction of foreign citizens by North Korean agents has been a big issue in Japan ever since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted in 2002 that his country had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The abductees were used to teach Japanese language and customs to North Korean spies. Kim Jong Il told Japan's prime minister those responsible had been punished, and he allowed the five surviving abductees to return home.
But Kim Jong Il's confession led the families of other missing Japanese to wonder whether their loved ones had also been abducted by North Korea. The Japanese have sought more information from Kim's regime. Meanwhile in South Korea, the government says 486 of its citizens have been abducted by the North and are still being held against their will.
In a book recently published in Japan, Jenkins writes, "I saw many people from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia who I am sure had been snatched, and many of the Europeans and Middle Easterners I knew, saw, or met in North Korea were, for one reason or another, unable to leave the country due to obstacles that the North Koreans purposely constructed to keep them there. … It is a tragedy, in my opinion, that more countries don't investigate further…. I am certain there are abductees from all over the world in North Korea."
Jenkins identifies the woman in the background of the photograph as Anoche (or Anocha) Panjoy. He says he knew her well because she was married to his best friend in North Korea, fellow U.S. army deserter Larry Abshier, who died of a heart attack in 1983.
Anoche said she came from a small farming community approximately 120 miles from Bangkok, Jenkins recalls. In 1978, she was working in a bathhouse in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that is now a special administrative region of China.
According to Jenkins, Anoche said she had been grabbed, tied up, drugged, and taken over a large hill or "mountain," where she was then put in a boat and taken to North Korea.
"She told me…. It was two or three more girls they got the same night," Jenkins told 60 Minutes. "Put 'em on the same boat and brought them all to Korea."
Anoche was in her 20s when she was abducted, Jenkins says. The photo of her was taken in 1985, after she had been in North Korea for seven years. "She begged them to send her home many times," Jenkins says. "They said to her, 'Why do you complain? You're much better off here than you were before.':"
After her husband's death in 1983, Anoche continued to live in the same apartment building as Jenkins and his wife. But she later moved out and remarried. Jenkins says he and his wife have not seen her since 1989.
Anoche and Abshier had no children, Jenkins says. The Caucasian-looking child sitting beside Anoche in the photo is the offspring of another U.S. army deserter and his wife.
Han Song Ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, declined to comment on Jenkins' allegations.
A spokesman for the Thai foreign ministry said it had never heard of any Thai people being kidnapped by North Korean agents, and it would seek more details from Jenkins. But a Japanese official said information about Anoche had been passed to Thai diplomats in May, and there had been no follow-up from the Thais since. Jenkins told 60 Minutes he had not been contacted by anyone from Thailand or Macau about the alleged abduction.
Jenkins' wife, Hitomi Soga, is one of five Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korea and later allowed to go home. Jenkins met Soga in North Korea, and they raised two children there. In 2002, Soga returned to Japan. After lengthy diplomatic negotiations, Jenkins and their two children joined her in Japan last year.
Soga has also identified Anoche as the woman in the photograph. Unlike Jenkins, Soga did not recall Anoche's last name, or the specific details of her abduction. She said it was possible Anoche had been tricked into coming to North Korea and then not allowed to leave.
By Andy Court