November 12, 2019 13:25
The bizarre saga of two alleged North Korean mass murderers and their cloak-and-dagger deportation is starting to develop into a major scandal.
The government secretly repatriated the two men on Nov. 7 after they were found adrift in South Korean waters on a squid fishing boat and told investigators that they had slaughtered the captain and 15 other crewmembers.
The grisly saga only became public after a text message to a Cheong Wa Dae official was accidentally caught on camera while he was checking it. Some speculate that the presidential office was behind their hasty deportation amid soured ties with the North.
A government insider said Monday, "given the unprecedented nature of the case, the Unification Ministry and the National Intelligence Service have been afraid to make a clear statement about it."
The two North Koreans were taken to the border truce village of Panmunjom handcuffed and blindfolded. One of them reportedly collapsed when he saw North Korean soldiers, realizing that he was being sent back to the North despite his wish to defect.
"If they hid their intention and falsely stated that they wanted to defect to South Korea, as the government here claims, how come they were in the dark until the moment they were handed over to North Korea?" said an activist who helps North Korean defectors.
Under the Constitution, all North Koreans are in theory considered South Korean citizens, so due process would have required the two to be tried in a South Korean court if they wanted to defect.
The story is at any rate full of holes. According to the government, the two men claimed to have murdered the captain under cover of night and then methodically slaughtered the rest of the crew by calling them out in pairs every 40 minutes under the pretext that they were needed on rotating shifts. That would have taken nearly five hours.
But Kazuhiro Araki, who heads a group for families of Japanese abduction victims, said "The wooden boat has no passage under the deck. In other words, you have to pass across the deck to get to another cabin, so it's a mystery that they managed to kill 16 people who could easily notice the murders that happened on a small squid fishing boat of just 17 tons."
"Moreover, it is very unlikely that all the victims were fast asleep since squid fishing is done at night," when the creatures can be lured to the surface, he added.
The two men also claimed that their third conspirator was arrested when they returned to the North's Kimchaek port but they somehow managed to flee on the boat without pursuit.
It has now emerged that the boat also carried an unusual number of high-tech devices, giving rise to conspiracy theories that the government here is covering up a failed spying operation.
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