Getting to the bottom of the caseThe Moon Jae-in administration’s forced — and clandestine — repatriation of North Korean defectors is full of mystery. The authorities claim that there was no problem with their return. Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul’s remarks at the National Assembly last Friday are fueling suspicions. Appearing at the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts that day, he explained about the lead-up to their fast repatriation. “Despite some contradictory statements they made during interrogations, they nevertheless insisted on going back to North Korea even if they die,” he claimed.
However, the North Koreans’ remarks that they wanted to return even if they die were reportedly on their way back to a port in North Korea after they murdered 16 other North Koreans on a fishing boat in the East Sea. Quoting their own conversation on the boat, Minister Kim made it sound as if they really wanted to go back to the North. But what a Unification Ministry official said later was completely different. He said that the two North Koreans had insisted on defecting to South Korea and never expressed any intention to return during interrogations.
If the Moon administration really sent them back against their will, that’s the same as the act of punishing them to death. South Korea signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1985.
The Unification Ministry said that their boss answered questions from lawmakers correctly in the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee on Thursday. But he obviously made obfuscating remarks in the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts the next day. Even if he was confused at the time, that’s a serious matter as he was apparently not aware of what really happened to the North Korean defectors. If he intentionally distorted the facts, that’s the same as cheating the whole country.
The case is full of puzzles from start to finish. First of all, it is hard to believe that three North Koreans could kill their 16 fellow crewmen so easily. The government’s decision to return them after two days of interrogation is also sheer nonsense. What about a lieutenant colonel’s direct reporting of the case to the Blue House after skipping the normal command chain?
The government has been constantly criticized for its overly submissive attitude toward North Korea. Would it send back any North Korean defectors if Pyongyang insists that they are criminals? To help clear a plethora of doubts over the suspicious repatriation, the authorities must get to the bottom of the case.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 14, Page 34