중앙데일리

North frees Hyundai Asan engineer

Chairwoman Hyun’s possible talks with Kim Jong-il yet to take place

Aug 14,2009
Hyundai Asan engineer Yu Song-jin, who had been detained in North Korea since
After 137 days of captivity in North Korea, a South Korean engineer crossed the inter-Korean border into freedom yesterday evening.

While Yu Song-jin, the 44-year-old employee of Hyundai Asan, returned, Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who traveled to the North earlier this week to win his release and to discuss inter-Korean business programs, remained on the other side of the border.

“Hyundai Asan was given custody of Yu around 5:10 p.m.” Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said yesterday evening.

Yu arrived at the South’s immigration control office around 8:45 p.m., government sources said. “I am happy to be back safely,” Yu said as he stepped out from the inter-Korean immigration office.

“Thank you very much for your effort and concern to facilitate my release.”

The solemn-faced Yu, then, boarded a black van and left the border control facility.

Yu had been detained since March 30 by the North Korean authorities on charges of criticizing North Korea’s political system. He was also accused of attempting to persuade a female North Korean worker to defect to the South while they worked together at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Since the North informed the South about Yu’s detention, Seoul made numerous requests to interview him. Pyongyang snubbed all appeals. Though several talks took place between the two Koreas over the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue, the North only repeated demands for more money to continue the program, avoiding any discussion of Yu’s fate.

The situation took a dramatic turn on Monday when Hyun crossed the inter-Korean border to win her employee’s release.

Her trip was also seen as Hyundai’s bid to save its company from snowballing losses incurred by stalled inter-Korean business programs, such as tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong.

Hyundai Asan President Cho Kun-shik also crossed the border and headed to the Kaesong Industrial Complex yesterday morning.

In Yu’s hometown of Goseong, South Gyeongsang, his family was thrilled by his release. “I hadn’t known he was detained in the North until my eldest son told me so a month ago,” said Yu’s 74-year-old father, Eung-yong. “Since then, I’ve continuously had sleepless nights.”

The remote farming village of 87 households shared the joy of Yu’s release with the family.

“We all worried so much after hearing the news about his detention, but it is fortunate that he’s been released,” said Baek Nam-gyeom, the village chief.

While Yu was released, South Korea was left in the dark as of yesterday evening as to whether Hyun had secured an anticipated encounter with Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong-il. Hyun extended her stay in the North for a second day yesterday, according to the Hyundai Group and the Unification Ministry.

Originally, she was scheduled to return Wednesday. Now, she is tentatively due back today.

North Korean media have reported that Kim has been away from Pyongyang, touring a port city in the northern part of the nation.

The latest report by the Korean Central News Agency said yesterday that “Dear Leader” Kim was in Wonsan, Gangwon Province, without specifying the time.

“Although belated, it is fortunate that Yu will be reunited with his family,” said Blue House spokesman Lee Dong-kwan, adding that President Lee was briefed immediately after the release. “The Lee administration will consistently maintain its North Korea policy.”

It has been widely expected that President Lee will make public a message about North Korea in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address in order to thaw frozen relations between the two Koreas.

While Yu was released, the fate of four fishermen who have been detained in the North since July 30 remains unresolved.

North Korea observers noted that it was significant for Pyongyang to release Yu, without Kim’s meeting with Hyun. Earlier this month, former U.S. President Bill Clinton won the release of two jailed American reporters after meeting with Kim.

“Taking into account past practices, the North could have wanted a ‘ransom,’ such as economic aid, but this time, the North sent a message to the South by releasing him first and asking for a reciprocal action,” said Suh Jae-jin, head of the Korea Institute of National Unification.

“That’s a dramatic change,” he said.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]






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