Bring POWs home

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Bring POWs home

A ruling Grand National Party delegation visiting China filed a petition with the Chinese Communist Party requesting the release of a South Korean prisoner of war who is currently in China’s custody after having been caught near the border. The man, known as Chung, 81, fled the North by crossing the Tumen River in August, but was caught by Chinese police. He has since been detained in a hospital in Yanbian due to ill health. The government has been trying to bring Chung to the South through diplomatic channels but to no avail. The GNP believes it may have better luck by approaching the Communist Party, given its influence in China.

This is a man who was called to serve his country in his early 20s, only to spend the bulk of his adult life as a prisoner of war. He risked escape despite his advanced age to spend his final days in his motherland. Now he is in danger of repatriation to the country that once held him captive.

As his country, it is South Korea’s duty to bring this serviceman home. The government says it is doing all it can. But given its track record, we are not so sure. POWs and their families have been sent back to North Korea before due to the tepid efforts of the Korean Embassy.

We understand the sensitivity of the issue, as it needs the full support of China, a country that officially considers defectors as illegal escapees subject to arrest and deports them back to the North. But this is a matter of human rights, not politics. If Beijing continues refusing to recognize fleeing Northerners as refugees, it will have to answer to the international community.

We must be aggressive in addressing this issue. We must adhere to international principles on human rights and should not avoid bringing the matter up with Beijing. The government must make an extra effort for the detained South Koreans who want to go home.

We estimate there are 560 POWs and 494 abducted civilians still alive in North Korea. We must not forget them. GNP floor leader Ahn Sang-soo recently proposed using financial grants to bargain with the North and bring back South Koreans being held against their will in the North. The proposal was modeled after West Germany’s Freikauf program, under which the country brought 33,755 political prisoners home from communist East Germany after providing a considerable amount of cash and goods. Ahn is proposing that we should do whatever it takes to bring our people home. We sincerely hope these proposals and efforts will be successful, and will not end in rhetoric.

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