June 25, 2019 13:02
Cheong Wa Dae and military authorities were alerted early to the latest defection by North Korean fishermen aboard a rickety boat on the East Sea. But government officials gave baffling explanations of the event in an apparent attempt to cover things up.
Both maritime police and military authorities in Gangwon Province alerted Cheong Wa Dae the moment the fishing boat laden with North Koreans docked in Samcheok on Saturday. The defense minister and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff held an emergency meeting the same morning because they were fully aware that the boat had slipped undetected through South Korean defenses. But two days later, the Defense Ministry lied to reporters that the boat had been "intercepted" "near" Samcheok. At that point maritime police had already said that the fishing boat had docked in Samcheok. When asked why the accounts differed, the ministry said it did not know what the maritime police said.
Cheong Wa Dae staff were present when the Defense Ministry gave that account, but nobody bothered to correct the ministry. Cheong Wa Dae had received a detailed briefing two days earlier from maritime police. Did Cheong Wa Dae in fact tell the military to lie? When controversy erupted over the discrepancy, it tried to downplay the whole thing by claiming that it really does not matter.
If the boat had drifted, like the government claimed, then its crew could not be said to be defecting. But they docked in Samcheok, and the crew probably did intend to defect. Did the government claim the boat was drifting because it is scared of angering North Korea? The North Koreans risked their lives by sailing 800 km down the East Sea. A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "If all four came down with the intention to defect, inter-Korean relations would have become very tense after the media coverage." So instead these brave defectors were treated as mere headaches by the government, and two of the four were sent back to the North following a two-hour interrogation.
It is also baffling that the maritime police did not inform the military, which has control over them, while briefing Cheong Wa Dae officials. The 23rd Army Division command the maritime police and Navy in the event of an emergency, but they were the last to be briefed. This shows how national defense has become lowest priority as the government is more interested in getting on North Korea's good side than in protecting South Koreans.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com