N.Korea Holds POWs, Abduction Victims to Ransom

      November 05, 2010 12:54

      Seoul asked North Korea last month to establish the whereabouts of 10 South Korean prisoners of war and 16 abduction victims, and the answer it got is that it is "impossible" to find out whether 25 of them are still alive and one is dead. Nor did the North send any POWs or abduction victims to the second round of reunions of families separated by the Korean War that ended Friday. 

      Numerous instances testify to the falsehood of North Korea's claim that there are no South Korean POWs and abduction victims in the North. Only a few days ago, an 84-year-old former POW returned home after fleeing from the North in early April and staying in a third country. Captured by North Korean troops in 1951, Kim was forced to work in the construction of Sunan International Airport near Pyongyang and build a farming village. On arrival in the South with his daughter-in-law, he issued an impassioned plea for help so that such brutality will not happen again.

      All 79 POWs who have managed to return home had to flee the North in dangerous circumstances. None of them was repatriated by the North. Fisherman Heo Jeong-su (57), who was abducted in the East Sea in August 1975, kept writing letters to his family until July last year. But asked by the South Korean government whether he is alive or dead, the North merely said that he was "out of contact" last year and no confirmation can be made this year.

      But in the meantime the North sent four former South Korean soldiers who were deemed killed in action to the first round of separated families last week in a deceptive attempt to show that the North is holding no POWS and abductees but has some former South Korean soldiers and citizens leading a life of contentment in the North.

      There is no way of verifying the claim. But the ruse backfired, because it only reminded South Koreans of the POW issue. The government estimates that over 500 POWs are still alive in the North, but the figure should be much greater. Of some 82,000 South Korean POWs at the time of the 1953 armistice, only 8,343 were repatriated. Most of the remainder must have died in the North while anxiously waiting for a helping hand from their homeland. Some others are still waiting.

      In inter-Korean talks last month, the government called for a fundamental solution to the repatriation of POWs and abduction victims. The North, without responding to the call, instead demanded 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer, essentially as a price for these hostages.  

      Pyongyang likes to appeal to the South's "brotherly" solidarity whenever that seems convenient but has shown none.  Our POWs and abduction victims who have languished in the North for anywhere between 30 and 60 years do not have long to live. The government must consider even measures that may seem unpalatable to get them home.

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