POWs and Abducted Fishermen Are Not Separated Families

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POWs and Abducted Fishermen Are Not Separated Families

The outcome of the second-round inter-Korean ministerial talks in Pyongyang is extremely disappointing. Prior to the talks, Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu assured us that the military issues, including the easing of tensions, would be discussed. The only result, however, was the inclusion of the phrase in the joint press release that military talks between the two governments would be “discussed." To make matters worse, the North's press release states that military talks will be "recommended." What is it that the two Koreas have actually agreed on? If food is to be provided in return for a prospect of "discussion" or "recommendation," what has the South's delegation won?

Worse is the attitude of delegates negotiating the POW issue. When no progress was to be made, Minister Park reportedly went all the way to Hamgyong Province by train to meet Chairman Kim Jong-il. In the meeting, they concluded that the POW issue would be resolved within the larger framework of separated families. Does it make sense that POWs belong to the separated families category?

The North did not include the unconverted long-term prisoners, some of whom were sent to North Korea on September 2, in the category of separated families. Upon their return, they were welcomed as heroes for refusing to defect and enduring decades of imprisonment. We watched their triumphant homecoming on television.

Why should the South's POWs and abducted fishermen be included in the category of separated families? Why should such an expedient method be adopted? The government appears intent to start closed-door negotiations to have POWs and abductees returned, now that the unconverted long-term prisoners have been sent to the North. Does this behavior befit a self-respecting sovereign state?

Right before the unconverted prisoners returned to the North, the South's National Intelligence Service (NIS) suddenly disclosed that five POWs and three abducted fishermen had fled the North and were in NIS custody. The fishermen arrived in July, however, and the POWs in August. What's worse, they did not return under the government‘s auspices. The government refused to accept them; their families had to literally smuggle them into the country. Whose government is this, and whom is it supposed to protect?

The NIS must reveal in detail why it has "protected" these defectors for so long. Perhaps they kept them in custody to prevent their presence from impeding the thaw in relations between the North and South. If those in custody suffered any infringement of their rights after their arrival in the South, those responsible must be dealt with.

POWs and abducted fishermen by no means fall into the category of separated families. No one has the right to trample on their rights as citizens of the Republic of Korea by using a vague, deceptive term. The government must put this matter on the official agenda of inter-Korean negotiations to help them come home with pride after years of hardship in the North.

by Moon Chang-kuk

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