[EDITORIAL] Don't Abandon Our Prisoners
Radio Pyongyang confirmed that two South Korean prisoners of war met their family members in the third reunion of separated families. A POW met his family at the second-round reunion, but it was kept under wraps. By publicizing the reunion this time around, the North seems to be aiming at two effects; accepting the South's assertion to include South Korean POWs in the "comprehensive category of separated families" and at the same time sticking to its contention that no POWs remain in the North. Some people even make a big deal out of the development as if crucial inter-Korean progress were made.
The issue of POWs and the kidnapped should not be solved in such a quibbling way. For all intents and purposes they are not separated families; they are POWs and forcibly abducted South Korean citizens, and the government must make efforts to bring them back. That is the least a state is expected to do for its citizens. North Korea's stance, however, is that no POWs or abductees exist. The North claims that they were once South Korean soldiers but they voluntarily joined the Korean People's Army or "heroically entered the North." According to data collected by Seoul, 343 South Korean POWs and some 400 abductees remain in the North. Their families are making efforts to contact them and demanding their return through the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. If the South Korean government quietly put them on the list of separated families, it amounts to buying the North Korean assertion about their status.
Furthermore, the North has come forward to demand the repatriation of its spies and their families. Seoul should demand verification to determine if POWs and abductees truly joined the North Korean army or entered the North voluntarily. In addition, the South should request information on the number and the status of POWs and abductees. Even if the North lumps them together with "comprehensive separated families," the South should classify them as POWs and abductees, leaving grounds for their repatriation. Even if only one or two POWs and abductees exist, the South should always keep a realistic possibility open for them to meet their families. If the government sneaks them onto the list of comprehensive separated families, it translates into abandonment of its duties.