December 14, 2004 19:36
The ethnic Korean-Chinese man who facilitated the abduction of South Korean pastor Kim Dong-shik by North Korean agents in 2000 was himself an operative within the North's State Safety and Security Agency. Kim was kidnapped while engaging in missionary activities in Yanji, China, that spilled over into assisting asylum-seekers from the famine-plagued state make a new life.
Seoul Central District Public Prosecutors' Office, which detained the kidnapper Saturday, issued an official confirmation Tuesday. "It has been confirmed that 35-year-old Yoo Young-hwa, who kidnapped Kim, is a Chinese-born ethnic Korean agent with North Korea's State Safety and Security Agency," disclosed spokesmen.
Yoo admitted to being an agent of the clandestine unit during a hearing at Seoul District Court on Saturday during which charges were brought against him in relation to Kim's kidnapping.
Commenting on Yoo's identity, a public security official with the prosecutors' office said that, "He was an ethnic Korean from China, but he was also a 'North Korean agent' who received instructions and operational funds from the North. He frequently went back and forth between China and North Korea, and was tasked with catching and forcefully repatriating North Korean defectors and the go-betweens helping them in China."
"Besides Yoo, we are tracking down 10 other accomplices involved in Kim's abduction... As of now, their identities and whereabouts are unclear, but we know that there were no South Koreans among them," he added.
Yoo is known to have colluded in a score of similar abductions. Prosecutors said that before being arrested by public security officials, he had been working as a laborer at a construction site somewhere in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
He entered South Korea in August 2001, leading some figures to observe that the incident has revealed holes in the immigration controls of South Korea's public security bodies.
Pointing to the need to maintain investigative security in their joint efforts with the National Intelligence Agency to arrest accomplices, prosecutors are remaining tight-lipped about whether Yoo was the ringleader of the kidnapping, and how he entered South Korea and for what purpose.
Concerning rumors persistently raised by Pastor Kim's family and defector support groups that he was still alive in Pyongyang, the office of a high-ranking prosecutor said, "There are those rumors, but the prosecution cannot officially confirm them."
Meanwhile, suspicion is mounting that the government has been tender-footing its way around North Korean diplomacy by failing to demand the return of abducted South Koreans such as Kim. Civic groups claim that Kim was kidnapped over four years ago.
An official from the Unification Ministry said, "Since confirming the incident in ... 2000, the Unification Ministry has worked for Kim's return through the United Nations and all other international bodies as well as through intra-Korean ministerial and Red Cross meetings, but it's a fact that results have been lacking ... Through this incident, we pledge to perfect our efforts to have Kim returned."
(Gwon Gyeong-bok, email@example.com)
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