A former lawmaker with the ruling party on Sunday unveiled a list of more than 100 South Korean soldiers who were captured by North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War and are believed to be living in coal mining areas in the North.
"With the help of sources in North Korea, we investigated whether any POWs were alive in North Hamgyong Province," said Park Sun-young, now a professor at Dongguk University. "By February this year we had the names of 117 POWs who were still alive."
She added they are old and in poor health due to years of laboring in coal mines and some may have died by now.
Park plans to make the list public on Tuesday and urge the South Korean government to try and win their return. According to the list, they live in three coal mining areas in North Hamgyong Province, the northernmost region of the isolated country.
The list contains their names, the names of the coal mines where they labored and their present addresses. The Chosun Ilbo checked them with former POWs who returned from North Korea and found that the names are genuine.
The POWs on the list had been sent to the coal mines just after the armistice in 1953. They toiled there for 30 to 40 years and now live in nearby villages.
The government here estimates around 500 POWs are still alive in North Korea based on accounts by POWs who have returned. But Seoul has been reluctant to reveal its own list because it doubts the reliability of some of the accounts due to the witnesses' old age.
"North Korea violates the Geneva Convention by holding POWs," Park said. "And our government is guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to bring them back 60 years after the armistice. We need to bring back the survivors and ensure that the remains of the deceased are also returned."
A Defense Ministry spokesman here said officials will compare Park's list with theirs. Official records show 80 South Korean POWs have returned since 1990, of whom 51 are still alive.