Failure on all frontsQuestions remain about a North Korean fishing boat that allegedly drifted into the South. The Blue House, the National Intelligence Service and military authorities were all informed of a North Korean boat docked at Samcheok Harbor, Gangwon Province, 19 minutes after it was discovered by the Korea Coast Guard on June 15. It was revealed to the public in a press briefing by the Ministry of Defense two days later — after a pack of initial lies.
The defense ministry said the boat had been discovered “near the harbor,” and hid the fact it had been reported in detail by the coast guard two days earlier. The ministry claimed the coast guard could not detect the boat’s arrival because the waves were too high. A Blue House official was also present at the military briefing. All the circumstances raised suspicions that the authorities fabricated or tried to hide the truth on the orders of the Blue House.
The way the authorities dealt with the fishermen was even more bizarre. The government said that two of the four North Koreans onboard were returned to North Korea upon their wishes after two days of questioning. Another perplexing question is how the fishing boat was able to dock in the harbor without any conflict among the four fishermen if their opinions on what to do upon reaching the South were so very different. It is also rare for authorities to wrap up such a probe within two days. The behavior of the fishermen was also easy to question. They looked remarkably clean for having been at sea for days and casually asked a villager to use a mobile phone.
North Korea also has been strangely calm. It usually accuses Seoul of “kidnapping” if a North Korean fishing boat is seized, and demands the return of the entire crew. Some are already speculating that the boat could have been on a spy mission. The military is said to be disgruntled after being blamed for failed maritime reconnaissance.
The incident is a comprehensive failure. The Navy failed to stop an intrusion across our maritime boarder by a North Korean vessel. The defense ministry lied, possibly because of pressure from the Blue House. And the intelligence agency handled the fishermen in a strange way. It is a serious problem if the government intended to downplay the incident because it might have a negative impact on a fourth inter-Korean summit.
The Blue House must directly answer all questions and punish anyone responsible for mishandling the situation. The National Assembly must call a probe into the affair to prevent such mishaps in the future.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 22, Page 30
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