[EDITORIALS]Sad case of Jeon Yong-ilOur government’s handling of the repatriation of Jeon Yong-il, a South Korean prisoner of war who managed to escape from the North, is a mess. It even makes one wonder if the Republic of Korea is a country at all. Mr. Jeon is now in a North Korean defectors’ camp in China across the border from North Korea. He was arrested by the Chinese authorities for using a fake passport. The government must do whatever is in its power to bring Mr. Jeon safely back home.
The Ministry of National Defense admitted that it fumbled its initial inquiry into the identity of Mr. Jeon and those responsible for the case will be punished. The ministry’s attitude is shameless; its admission and vow to discipline those involved are ineffective measures. The ministry should set up a framework for the safe return of surviving prisoners of war held in the North. Problems with the return of a prisoner of war who escapes from the North should be reported directly to the minister and verification of the prisoner’s identity should proceed quickly.
Had the ministry already prepared such a system for the prisoners of war, the tragedy of Mr. Jeon, who has now become a prisoner in China, would not have happened. Despite a geometric increase in the number of North Korean defectors, the ministry has no plans for South Korean prisoners of war escaping from the North. Such carelessness and indifference have put Mr. Jeon, who escaped in June, in the position of being sent back to North Korea. How can we pledge our allegiance to such a government?
It is not only the Ministry of National Defense that should be criticized. The government did not know that Mr. Jeon was sent from Hangzhou, where he was arrested, to Tumen, until it was informed of such by a civilian. In a dutiful and responsible government, not only the foreign minister and the defense minister, but the president himself would have stepped forward to contact their counterparts in China to ask for help. The government’s call for regular negotiations through diplomatic channels shows a lack of responsibility. We ask for serious reflection on this situation by the government.