Stranded Northerners won’t go to DMZ: Seoul

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Stranded Northerners won’t go to DMZ: Seoul

South Korea yesterday invited North Korean officials to visit four of its stranded citizens to confirm their wish to stay here, while turning down Pyongyang’s demand that the four meet with their families at repatriation talks in the demilitarized zone.

The military found 31 North Koreans drifting on a wooden fishing boat in the Yellow Sea on Feb. 5. While 27 expressed their wish to return to their homeland, four - two men and two women - expressed their intention to stay in the South.

Pyongyang, however, demands all 31 to be repatriated and has said Seoul is coercing the four to stay.

“The four people stated their intentions freely and the United Nations Command also confirmed their wish independently,” said a senior Blue House official. “It’s not just the South Korean government [who confirmed it]. We checked with them objectively and transparently. I think it is possible for the North [Korean officials] to come down here and meet them to confirm their intentions under our supervision. If they want confirmation, then they can come to the South and confirm their intentions.”

He also reaffirmed the government’s position that the four North Koreans won’t be a part of repatriation talks. The North proposed Red Cross talks to discuss the fate of 31 drifters and insisted that the four should be present at the meeting. The North said it would bring the families of the four to the talks.

“It is unprecedented to put the four people under such psychological pressure,” said the Blue House official. “There are many other objective ways to confirm the four people’s wish to stay here.”

Asked if Seoul is willing to invite the four North Koreans’ families to the South, he said, “That’s also unprecedented. We have 500 South Koreans still living in the North, and it isn’t possible for their families to travel to the North to confirm [their supposed intentions to stay in the North].”

A Web site run by North Korea, mainly for propaganda against the South, posted videos yesterday of the families of the four North Koreans who have decided to not return home.

In the videos, relatives of all four demanded their return and said the South Korean government was preventing them from going home. They spoke mechanically, as if they had been coached.

The Blue House official also spoke pessimistically about the resumption of humanitarian aid to the North. “The Yeonpyeong Island shelling took place when we were sending aid packages to the North. It is inappropriate to resume the shipments as if nothing happened,” he said. “I think we should wait and see.”

He was also skeptical about mounting reports of a worsening food crisis in the North. He said the reports, and North Korea’s requests for food donations from abroad, may be in preparation for 2012, which is the year Pyongyang has pledged to become a powerful and prosperous nation.

Some analysts have said North Korea may be stockpiling food for next year’s celebrations and propaganda campaign.

“It is my understanding that the North’s harvest increased last year from the previous year,” he said. “We must keep in mind the possibility that the North is stockpiling food, while giving smaller rations. In that case, NGOs and foreign relief agency workers probably think the food shortage has worsened.”

According to the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, North Korea’s harvest for the 2010 main season and its forecasted yield for the 2011 early season went up by 3 percent from that of the previous period.


By Ser Myo-ja, Christine Kim [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article[경향신문]

북, 귀순 4명 가족편지 보내 ‘송환 심리전’

지난달 5일 목선을 타고 서해 연평도 인근 북방한계선(NLL)을 넘어왔다가 귀순키로 한 북한 주민 4명을 놓고 남북 간 신경전이 연일 고조되고 있다. 북측은 9일 표류해온 주민의 가족들 편지와 동영상을 앞세워 31명 전원 송환을 압박했다. 남측은 “귀순 의사를 못 믿겠다면 북측 당국자가 남쪽에 와서 직접 확인해보라”고 버텨 힘겨루기가 장기화될 소지도 배제할 수 없어 보인다.

주민 31명의 가족 일동은 이날 오후 남측에 전원 송환을 거듭 요구한 항의편지를 보냈다고 조선중앙통신이 전했다. 귀순 의사를 밝힌 4명의 가족들은 별도의 편지도 보냈다.

가족들은 판문점 팩스를 통해 현인택 통일부 장관과 유종하 대한적십자사 총재 앞으로 보낸 편지에서 “억류된 가족 전원이 자기 배를 타고 나갔던 길로 하루 빨리 돌아올 수 있게 할 것을 요구한다”고 밝혔다. 이어 “어떤 3자의 확인도, 어떤 영상물도 인정할 수 없고 오직 본인들과의 직접 대면만이 모든 사실을 명확하게 해줄 것이다. 생이별은 상상조차 할 수 없는 일”이라고 강조했다. 통일부는 “가족 편지를 4명에게 보여주는 게 인도주의 면에서 나을지 고민 중”이라고 밝혔다.

앞서 대남선전 웹사이트인 ‘우리민족끼리’는 여성 통계원인 박모씨(22·황남 해주)의 어머니 김옥진씨 등을 등장시켜 “4명이 남한에 억류돼 있다”며 빨리 돌려보내라는 동영상도 올렸다. 김씨는 “역적패당은 더 이상 귀순이라는 치욕을 강요하지 말고 억류시킬 때 차림새 그대로 어머니의 품에 당장 돌려보내라”고 요구했다.


북측은 이날 오전 10시 판문점 중립국감독위에서 4명과 가족을 대면시켜 귀순의 진의 확인을 요구했으나, 남측이 불응하자 가족을 내세워 심리전을 편 것으로 풀이된다.

정부는 주민 27명의 송환을 거듭 촉구하고, 4명의 귀순 의사는 남측에 와서 확인해보라는 입장이다. 청와대 고위관계자는 “북한 당국자가 남쪽에 와서 4명의 자유의사를 직접 확인하는 것은 충분히 가능하다”고 말했다. 그러면서 “북측 당국자가 가족들을 데리고 나와서 함께 만나자거나, 가족들만이라도 4명과 직접 만나게 해서는 안된다”며 “심리적 압박을 받는 상황을 만드는 것은 전례가 없다”고 일축했다.

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