Saturday 18 November 2017

'I don't want to be trapped in a North Korean prison' - Student's lucky escape after entering country illegally

Reece Kidd accidentally entered North Korea
Reece Kidd accidentally entered North Korea

Cate McCurry

A student from Northern Ireland on a government-backed travel scheme nearly ignited a diplomatic incident after straying into North Korea without permission.

Reece Kidd crossed into the pariah state by accident during a boat trip in China.

The former pupil of St Patrick's Grammar School in Downpatrick in Co Down narrowly avoided being seized by border troops in a region beset by political unrest.

Governments around the world have slammed the actions of Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un over his nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile testing.

The 22-year-old was in China as part of the Saltire Scholar programme that offers talented students placements with overseas companies.

Reece moved to Scotland in September 2014 to study software engineering at the University of Stirling.

The Foreign Office urges UK citizens to stay away from North Korea and advises against all but essential travel to the country.

It warns that tensions are high and that foreigners face severe penalties or punishment from local authorities.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters

Read More: US calls for Monday vote at United Nations on new North Korea sanctions

Reece posted an account of his trip on the website of Entrepreneurial Scotland, which organised the placement for him at Fidelity Investments in the Chinese city of Dalian.

He travelled across the Yalu River with a local family and said he wanted to visit North Korea as it seemed a "hip place".

The blog post, which has since been deleted, said: "I accidentally crossed the North Korean border.

"Took a weekend break to Dandong, China, which is right beside North Korea.

"I was just enjoying the sun when the driver turns around the corner and we go right along the guard tower. I see some soldiers in the distance, resting beside the water.

"We drive right along beside them before pulling over. They are North Korean uniforms."

The student, who is blond, realised his hair colouring would mark him out as a foreigner to the troops.

The blog continued: "Two thoughts go through my head.

"First, I don't want to be trapped in a North Korean prison. Secondly, I should have worn a cap."

A spokesman for Entrepreneurial Scotland said his actions had been naive and did not reflect the standards of the programme.

He added that the student had apologised and now understood the danger his lack of judgment placed him in. "Scholars are encouraged to absorb and respect the culture of the places they visit during their internships," he said.

"Prior to travelling they are fully briefed on the safety aspects of the countries they visit and their responsibilities.

"Given the escalating tensions in this part of the world this scholar's naive actions as reported in his blog do not reflect the standards we expect from those on the programme.

"The blog has now been deleted and we have spoken with the individual concerned, who fully appreciates his lack of judgment and apologises for his actions."

Read More: South Korea braces for another possible missile test by the North

A University of Stirling spokesman said: "We are aware of this incident and understand that the student regrets his lack of judgment.

"As with all Saltire Scholars, he received a full safety briefing before travelling and understands his actions were below the standards expected on the programme."

He added: "We are relieved that nobody involved came to any harm."

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