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South Korea, China Discussing Fate of Alleged N. Korea Abductee

South Korean officials say they are involved in sensitive talks with the Chinese government about a South Korean man staying in China who says he was abducted to North Korea 31 years ago. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the case draws renewed attention to North Korea's history of kidnapping other countries' citizens.

The last time the family of South Korean fisherman Choi Uk-il saw him was 31 years ago. His family says that is when says North Korea captured him and fellow crew members at sea, and forced them to live in the communist North.

Now, however, they have word that Choi is alive and has escaped to China. He is asking the South Korean government to return him to his hometown and family.

Kim Nam-jung, an official at the South Korean Unification Ministry, says Choi's case is being taken very seriously.

He says for Choi's safety, it is not the proper time to discuss his situation in detail. He adds that the South Korean government is handling the matter with "sincere interest."

South Korean officials say North Korea has kidnapped about 400 of its citizens in the decades since the two countries fought a war from 1950 to 1953.

Choi Sung-young leads the activist group Representatives of the Abductees Family Union. So far, his appraisal of South Korea's handling of Choi Uk-il has been positive.

He says Seoul is "working positively" to bring Choi Uk-il back. He adds that he thinks the situation will be resolved in a satisfactory way.

Choi says Choi Uk-il is in a "safe place" in China under his group's protection.

Though he has a wife and two children in the North, Choi fled alone for what are being described as security reasons.

South Korea's government has been criticized in recent years for not demanding that North Korea address the abductee issue. Under its policy of engagement with Pyongyang, Seoul generally refrains from confronting or criticizing the North.

North Korea denies kidnapping any of the South's citizens, saying any South Koreans in the North came there willingly. The Pyongyang government, however, has admitted kidnapping several Japanese citizens, five of whom were allowed to return to Japan a few years ago. The Japanese government says several more of its people were snatched by North Korean and agents and has repeatedly demanded a fuller accounting of them.

North Korea also is suspected of having abducted several people from other countries.