Dereliction of duty

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Dereliction of duty

A deceased South Korean POW’s daughter-in-law and her children fled to China from North Korea before being handed over to the South Korean consulate in Shenyang. But the consulate sent the family to a privately run inn. The grandson’s plea to stay at the consulate for safety was dismissed by diplomats despite his complaint that they feared arrest by Chinese security officers. His mournful petition for repatriation to South Korea, his grandfather’s home country, was all in vain. It didn’t take long before they were all arrested by Chinese police, who raided the inn. They were deported to North Korea and sent to a political prison camp with six members of another South Korean POW family.

That’s the tragic story of the family of the late Lee Kang-san, a former South Korean soldier who became a POW during the 1950-53 Korean War. After his death in 1996, his family desperately wanted to escape from the brutal Communist regime in the North, but to no avail. In a lawsuit against the state by Lee’s remaining family in the South, the Seoul Central District Court ruled that the government pay 35 million won ($32,300) to the plaintiff because of its poor reaction to the situation.

It is not the first time that the court held the state liable for damages caused by the government’s irresponsibility towards families of South Korean POWs. On Jan. 15, the court ruled that the state should pay 100 million won to the South Korean family of the late Han Man-taek, a POW who was forcibly repatriated to the North a day after he fled to China in 2004. Shortly after his arrest, his family in the South called on the Ministry of National Defense to rescue him. But the ministry notified the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Intelligence Service of his predicament nine days after his arrest. It turned out that the Foreign Ministry did not call for his return to South Korean authorities in China nor did they have a face-to-face meeting with Han. After being repatriated to the North, Han died in 2009 after brutal torture at a prison camp.

Han volunteered for military service at the age of 18 when the Korean War broke out. A recipient of the Order of Military Merit during the war, he crossed the Tumen River to escape from the North. But officials from his homeland didn’t do anything to help.

That’s a shameful portrait of us. Under such circumstances, who would devote their lives to this country? The government must punish civil servants who neglected their jobs and put the issue of repatriation of South Korean POWs on the negotiation table when inter-Korean talks resume.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 27, Page 30

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