[EDITORIALS]Contempt for our soldiersThe government’s treatment of Private Jeon Yong-il has been shameful. The Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service knew of his case five months ago but chose to ignore it. The case became public after the aging prisoner of war was arrested in China for trying to take a plane to South Korea with a fake passport, and then the two agencies tried to cover up their failures. How could something like this happen in a civilized society? It is a wonder that the defense minister still has his job.
Private Jeon is an honorable soldier who at the age of 22 fought against communist North Korea exactly half a century ago and was taken prisoner. He is now a courageous aging prisoner or war who, after fifty years of terror and despair, put his life on the line once again, determined to spend the rest of his life at home and in freedom.
There are more than 500 other prisoners of war in North Korea just like Private Jeon. It is simply beyond belief that the Defense Ministry and the intelligence agency had the gall to ignore the case of a prisoner of war who was almost halfway home.
A defense minister in the past chose to skip the funeral of a soldier killed in a naval clash with the North in June 2002. A former army chief of staff who went on to become defense minister handed a bouquet to a prisoner who refused to change his ideology and was repatriated to the North. Perhaps it is not surprising for that kind of ministry to have ignored the plea of a prisoner of war trying to come home after 50 years. There is no other way to explain its conduct; it had even confirmed his identity with his family in June.
The president must hold Defense Ministry and National Intelligence Service officials involved responsible and make the repatriation of prisoners of war a key item on the agenda with the North. That will be the way to prevent a second or third Private Jeon from being turned back from freedom. There are countries in the world that spend limitless amounts of money to repatriate the remains of soldiers missing in action. This government has made a criminal out of a hero who wanted to find his own way back to freedom.