June 04, 2013 13:15
South Korean embassy officials in Laos are accused of standing idly by while nine young North Korean refugees were taken back to the North, where they face internment or execution. The incident has refreshed memories that this is not the first time South Korean diplomats have turned a blind eye to the plight of North Korean defectors.
Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyoung and North Korean activist and evangelist Kim Hee-tae at a press conference on Monday said activists also sought help from the South Korean embassy in Laos when 10 defectors were arrested in 2006, but not one diplomat came to see them.
One activist aiding North Korean defectors in Laos told the Chosun Ilbo, "We turned to the embassy in Laos in March of 2009, when 17 North Korean defectors were arrested, but officials merely told us to wait."
And the family of defector Han Man-taek, who escaped the North in 2004 but was captured by Chinese police and sent back to the North, said, "We told embassy officials in China exactly where he was confined, but they did not even go to see him." Han's family later sued the government for W100 million (US$1=W1,128) in compensation.
Every time such problems grab headlines, the Foreign Ministry protests that it did "everything possible" to protect the defectors and keep their escape route from being exposed. But witness accounts reveal extreme reluctance on the part of embassy officials to help defectors.
Are diplomats treating defectors like a pebble in their shoe, to be shaken off for the sake of an easy life in their sinecure? These accounts very much give that impression.
The public believes that the country's embassies are working tirelessly together with intelligence agents to assist North Korean defectors in other countries. But these accounts cast severe doubt on whether that is really happening.
The government must get to the bottom of this matter and reveal which side is telling the truth. Only then will it be possible to come up with an effective way of helping North Korean defectors.
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