S.Korea Is Powerless to Ensure Safety of Its Own People

      April 29, 2009 12:19

      It has been more than a month since a Hyundai Asan employee has been detained by North Korea authorities in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek in a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondent's Club on Tuesday said North Korean officials have yet to inform the South of the reasons why the man, identified only by his surname Yoo, had been detained and why he was being investigated.

      There has been no instance where the government has been unable to establish either direct or even indirect channels of contact with a detainee for more than a month, even in situations where citizens were abducted by terrorists or pirates who demanded a ransom. But our minister in charge of dealing with North Korea is only able to make such a defeatist confession while a South Korean national is held captive clearly shows the status of the Republic of Korea in the present state of inter-Korean relations.

      This is also evidence of the fact that the government is unable to exercise its right under international law to protect its own citizens and is unable to fulfill that duty even while it engages in economic cooperation projects with North Korea. Just picture Yoo's situation, confined for more than a month in a North Korean prison, reputed as being the harshest in the world, unable to meet an official with the South Korean government, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, or his family. For Yoo, what good is his own nation?

      North Korea signed an agreement with South Korea in January of 2004 involving entry and visits to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Kumgang tourist resort. Under Article 10, clauses 2 and 4 of that agreement, if Yoo's violations are deemed "grave" by North Korea, it must consult with South Korea over the handling of that issue or issue a warning or fine or deport him. North Korea simply tore up this agreement.

      The Republic of Korea is the only country in the world that has left 1,000 to 1,500 of its citizens and around a hundred of its businesses to work and operate in a lawless region where the government has absolutely no way of guaranteeing their safety.

      A council of South Korean businesses operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex issued a statement on Tuesday saying the guarantee of personal safety for the South's workers stationed in the factory complex is a basic prerequisite for the development of the zone. It said a failure to abide by this guarantee poses a serious obstacle to the continued development of the complex.

      The government should pursue its next move based on the firm resolve that it is willing to shut down the business project if it is taking place, no matter how important it is deemed to be, in a place that offers no guarantee of the safety of its people. Inter-Korean cooperation is an oxymoron if it continues with the sacrifice of South Korean lives.

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