Son longs for father hijacked to the North in 1969

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Son longs for father hijacked to the North in 1969

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Hwang In-cheol at an exhibition he held yesterday at the northern Gyeonggi Provincial Government Complex in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi. By Park Sang-moon


On Dec. 12, 1969, a Korean Air Lines YS-11 aircraft flying from Gangneung, Gangwon, to Gimpo International Airport was hijacked by a North Korean spy at 12:36 p.m. and forced to fly to Pyongyang. The flight was carrying 46 South Korean passengers and four crew members, including Hwang Won, a 32-year-old producer for Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, who was on a business trip.

Hwang left behind his wife, a three-month-old daughter and a two-year-old son. They haven’t seen or heard from him since.

After 42 years, most Koreans have forgotten the hijacking and many young people have never heard about it at all. But Hwang’s son, Hwang In-cheol, 44, has never given up his search for the father he can’t even remember.

And he’s bitter about the scant assistance he’s received through the decades.

“For me, the biggest hardship in searching for my father is people’s indifference and the government’s negligence,” Hwang said. “The South Korean government has done nothing for me, except the formality of asking for help from the International Red Cross.”

Two days after the hijacking, North Korea broadcast a press conference through state-run radio station Pyongyang Broadcasting System. At the conference, the plane’s captain, Yu Byeong-ha, and its first officer, Choe Seok-man, said they had defected to the communist country, shocking South Korea.

But those claims were doubted, and after condemnation from the international community, North Korea said on Feb. 3, 1970, that it would repatriate all of the passengers and crew members and would return the aircraft to the South.

It reneged on parts of that promise. The aircraft was never returned. And on Feb. 14, 39 passengers were sent back to the South through Panmunjom, a village on the inter-Korean border. Eleven people - the captain, first officer, two female flight attendants and seven passengers - were held in North Korea.

“The 39 people who returned told the truth to the public at a press conference on Feb. 15 - it was a hijacking,” Hwang said. “A North Korean agent, Cho Chang-hee, disguised himself as a South Korean passenger and forced the captain to fly to the North after the plane took off.”

According to media reports at the time, the 39 released passengers said they were indoctrinated with North Korean ideology at a series of lectures. They reported that Hwang’s father got into a quarrel with a North Korean official, telling him, “All of the things you are saying are wrong.”

After that, Hwang’s father was dragged outside the classroom and separated from the other South Koreans for the next two weeks.

Another apparent transgression came, according to the passengers who returned, when the group was drinking with North Korean officials and Hwang’s father sang a song, “I want to go back to my hometown.”

“The people who were allowed to return to South Korea said they never saw him again after he sang that song,” Hwang said.

Since her husband disappeared, Hwang’s mother has suffered from poverty and mental illness. Afraid for her son’s safety, she rarely allowed him to enjoy outdoor activities or have normal social interactions.

For the past decade, Hwang has waged a one-man struggle to find his father. (His younger sister lives in Britain.)

He staged a solo rally in front of the National Assembly, sent a letter to North Korea through the Ministry of Unification and issued numerous statements.

The families of the missing passengers and crew formed a lobbying committee in the early days. “The North refused any demand from the committee, saying it was none of their business,” Hwang said.

“The committee was disbanded in 1979 when the group’s president died. Since then, I am the only one who fighting for the truth. And with no solutions, this tragedy has started to disappear from people’s memories.”

One breakthrough came on June 26, 2001, when a reunion for families separated by the Korean War was held in Pyongyang.

Seong Gyeong-hui, a flight attendant on the hijacked plane, met her mother and said she was married to a North Korean man and had a son and a daughter.

She said that the other flight attendant, Jeong Gyeong-suk, was fine, living in her neighborhood.

Except for those two, there has been no word of the others held in North Korea.

“In 2006, North Korea sent me a letter through the Red Cross that said they couldn’t confirm whether my father was alive or not,” Hwang said.

A special law enacted in 2007 says it is the South Korean government’s “duty” to make efforts to confirm the fate of abductees in North Korea and make efforts to bring them home.

Hwang said he once talked to a vice minister of unification at a meeting with families of abductees in North Korea in November 2010.

“The vice minister told me, ‘Currently, [improving] inter-Korean relations is the top priority for the ministry and it is difficult to talk about the matter at this moment.’”

“I know working-level officials in the ministry are doing their best with this issue,” Hwang said.

“However, I was really disappointed with the ministry at the time and thought that humanitarian issues should be separated from the issue of inter-Korean relations. I constantly asked the government for help, but they didn’t listen to me.”

Now Hwang is pinning his hopes on help from the international community. In June 2010, he registered his father as an abductee with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

He was the first family member to do so and two other families followed his lead in the next few months.

Last month, the council officially requested that the North confirm whether the 11 abductees are still alive.

According to the UN’s rule, North Korea should reply to the demand within six months. If it refuses, North Korea will be listed by the UN as a country where forced disappearance happens.

“Hijacking is definitely an international crime, which has no statute of limitations,” Hwang said. “Unlike other abductions, North Korea can’t deny this case, because there is so much clear evidence.”

Hwang said that the first thing he wants to know about his father is whether he’s alive.

“If my father died, I want the North to send his remains and tell me everything that happened to him for the past 42 years, according to the international standard,” he said. “If he’s alive, I want to see him regularly, not like reunions in the past, which were one-shot affairs.

“If I could meet him,” Hwang said, “I want to wash his body from head to foot. That’s my dream.”


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [연합뉴스]

'1969년 KAL기 피랍자' 42년만에 송환 캠페인

가족회 경기도북부청사서 열어..12월11일까지 전국 릴레이 개최

1969년 KAL기 피랍자 11인에 대한 송환 캠페인이 납북 42년만에 처음으로 열렸다.

'1969년 KAL기 납치피해자 가족회'(대표 황인철)는 '미귀환 11인의 생사확인과 송환을 위한 캠페인'을 27일 경기도 의정부시 경기도북부청사에서 시작해 이틀간 계속한다.

이 캠페인은 피랍자 최정웅씨의 부인 김영숙(70ㆍ여)씨의 편지 낭독, 호소문 낭독, 사진 전시회 등으로 진행됐다.

가족회는 이 캠페인을 시작으로 피랍일인 12월11일까지 전국 각지에서 미귀환 11인의 생사확인과 중국을 제외한 제3국에서의 상봉을 촉구하는 활동을 지속적으로 벌일 계획이다.

1969년 12월11일 강릉발 김포행 KAL기는 강릉 상공에서 북한의 고정간첩에 의해 납치, 승무원과 승객 50명이 북한으로 끌려갔다.

국제사회의 잇단 비난으로 39명이 66일만인 1970년 2월14일 귀환했으나 승객 7명과 승무원 4명 등 11명은 지금껏 돌아오지 못하고 있다.

황인철 가족회 대표는 "가족이 납북된 지 42년이 지났지만 여전히 생사확인조차 못하고 있다"며 "KAL기 납북 사건은 우리 가족만의 문제가 아니라 사회가 함께 풀어가야 할 인도주의적 사안"이라고 말했다.

황 대표는 이어 "유엔 인권이사회를 통해 지난달말 북한에 가족의 생사확인을 요청했다"며 "국민들이 힘을 모아주면 상봉과 송환도 가능할 것으로 기대한다"고 호소했다.

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