Accessibility links

South Korean Government Considers Returning Former Spies to North Korea

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea's government is mulling a controversial move to return several North Koreans it once captured as spies to their communist homeland. But activist groups say Seoul should demand that Pyongyang reciprocate by addressing concerns about missing South Koreans believed to be in the North.

South Korea's Unification Ministry is weighing the fate of 28 North Koreans described as "unconverted long-term prisoners."

Most of them were captured as spies or prisoners of the 1950-53 war between North and South Korea. They spent decades in a South Korean prison, although most are now free. Most are in their 70s and 80s.

They are called unconverted because they reportedly still express loyalty to the North Korean government and say they want to go home.

Kwon Oh-hun, who is a representative of the South Korean Committee for Promoting the Repatriation of Unconverted Long-term Prisoners, says the North Koreans have a legal right to return home.

Mr. Kwon says South Korea agreed in 2000 to repatriate North Korean prisoners, and has not fully lived up to its obligation.

Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of South Korea's main conservative opposition party, says the North, too, made promises in 2000 - and criticizes the repatriations as one-sided.

Ms. Park says the South should demand Pyongyang return or account for missing South Koreans believed to be in the North.

Civic groups say nearly 500 South Koreans, mostly fishermen, have been abducted and taken to North Korea since fighting halted in 1953. During the war itself, some 85,000 South Koreans were taken prisoner by the North, while only about 100 are accounted for.

North Korea says no South Koreans live in North Korea against their will.

In 2000, South Korea sent home a group of 63 North Koreans, soon after a historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

The journey was the subject of South Korea's most successful documentary film, Repatriation.

In a scene of the film, a North Korean returnee says it is not enough to make the journey back home - he says North and South Korea have to continue communicating closely with one another.

The South Korean government says a final decision on the 28 North Koreans is expected within the next few weeks.

XS
SM
MD
LG