[REPORTER'S DIARY]Leaning Over Backwards

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Leaning Over Backwards

Seven North Korean defectors, Jang Gil-suh and his family, arrived in Seoul on Saturday. The next day Mun Kuk-hwan, secretary-general of a civic group called The People to Save Gil-suh's Family, held a news conference in the press room of Jongno Police Station in Seoul.

Mr. Mun, who played a decisive role in saving the family by smoothing their passage to South Korea, was wearing an surgeon's operating gown. His face was covered with a surgical mask.

First, he explained that he wore such an outfit to symbolize the role he had played in "treating" the defectors by helping them and providing personal protection for them. Then he gave a detailed description of the dramatic and hair-raising moments of the Jang family's escape from North Korea and their flight through China. At the end, he criticized the South Korean government.

"The government has been too passive on taking action on issues concerning North Korean defectors," Mr. Mun said. He urged that the government lead the formation of a standing organization to provide emergency relief for North Korean escapees.

And certainly there was a distinct contrast between the blunt, affirmative stance of the civic group and the government. Ministries involved in the affair, including the Ministry of Unification, remained silent about the incident, which has been spotlighted in international news.

The government did not even hold a briefing session, which is a common practice. The National Intelligence Service, which is currently questioning the Jang clan, did not respond to repeated questions from reporters.

"We can only comment on the issue after the investigation is finished," a spokesman stuttered, refusing to confirm even simple facts.

We understand the government's caution. It is not unreasonable that the government is trying to avoid making any moves that could be construed as provocative toward the North, in order that the suspended inter-Korean talks can be restarted at the earliest possible date.

It is plainly evident that the more Seoul mentions issues related to the Jang family and its dramatic escape, the more of a backlash it can expect from the North.

Holding a smug news conference every time a North Korean defector arrives in the South, as in the past, can be unhelpful. But experts in inter-Korean relations have pointed out that, equally, it may not be a good idea to cover up issues relating to North Korean defectors merely to maximize the chance that talks with Pyongyang will be restored.

Human rights have been recognized widely in the international community as of the utmost importance. And there is a saying that when carrying out any task, order and measure in action must take precedence. Losing the balance always spells trouble.

Regardless of government treatment of other North Korean defectors, we feel that it would have been better if our government had maintained its composure and fortitude, allowing at least some briefings and discussions of the Jang family's arrival.

The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chul-hee

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