Japanese citizens have been kidnapped in far fewer numbers — dozens of Japanese versus perhaps thousands of South Koreans — but Tokyo has never let the issue die and it is resolution of that issue that might end up making or breaking Tokyo-Pyongyang relations in the near future.
The Hannara Party held a seminar yesterday to let returned kidnappees tell their stories. Like 62-year-old Ko Myongsop, who along with his fellow fishermen strayed too close to the unofficial maritime border and ended up spending thirty years doing forced labor on a chicken farm with so few birds that the workers had to eat tree bark. His escape meant leaving behind a wife and kids in the North.
A key party goal is to push this year for bills aimed at accounting for South Korean detainees in the communist North and improving the welfare of their families in the South, said Representative Kim Moon Soo, who organized the meeting.
The Boston Globe article reports that the ROK government estimates that more than 80,000 of its citizens were taken to the North against their will during the 1950-53 Korean War, and of nearly 4,000 more detained by the North since, 485 are still there.
Conservatives in Japan have raised a stink about kidnapped Japanese citizens, and conservatives in South Korea are livid that the Roh Moohyun government hasn't done the same. In the interest of warming relations, Seoul has largely been silent on the issue, hoping to win Pyongyang's cooperation in other areas.
Last month, the two Koreas' Red Cross societies failed to agree on the issues of prisoners of war and Southern abductees still alive in the North. Kind of a no-brainer since Pyongyang denies holding any POWs at all and claims all the South Korean civilians within its borders defected voluntarily.
Hannara Party chairwoman Park Geunhye says it's high time South Korea make the detainees an issue:
We have provided much humanitarian assistance to North Korea. We are entitled to make such a request to the North on humanitarian grounds.Ko, who now has a North Korean accent, escaped to China with the help of South Korean activists. In fact, this is how many of the escapees from North Korea get out of the DPRK and eventually into the ROK. This is important to note because it represents active opposition to the milquetoasts in the Unification Ministry led by Chung Dong-young who are publicly downplaying the plight of those stuck in North Korea, even the ROK citizens.
As long as the Hannara Party and other groups keep driving home the issue and raising awareness, hopefully more and more people will reject Chung's fantasy role play that the North Korea regime is just a regular country like everyone else.