Sunday, July 14, 2013

Some South Korean POWs still trapped in the North, 60 years after armistice

As we look at our own controversy with the US Joint Prisoner of War and Mission in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) we should note that the Republic of Korea has had their own Soldiers held as POWs in north Korea for some 60 years.  Another indication of the inhumanity of the Kim Family Regime (as if anyone needed more proof).

Some South Korean POWs still trapped in the North, 60 years after armistice
By Chico Harlan, Published: July 13

SEOUL — Sixty years ago this month, a 21-year-old South Korean soldier named Lee Jae-won wrote a letter to his mother. He was somewhere in the middle of the peninsula, he wrote, and bullets were coming down like “raindrops.” He said he was scared.

The next letter to arrive came days later from the South Korean military. It described a firefight in Paju, near the modern-day border between the North and South, and said Lee had been killed there in battle. His body had not been recovered.

“We never doubted his death,” said Lee’s younger brother, Lee Jae-seong. “It was the chaos of war, and you couldn’t expect to recover a body.”

But Lee was not dead. Rather, he had been captured by Chinese Communists and handed to the North Koreans, who detained him as a lifetime prisoner, part of a secretive program that continues 60 years after the end of the Korean War, according to South Korean officials and escapees from the North.
Tens of thousands of South Korean POWs were held captive in the North under the program, penned in remote areas and kept incommunicado in one of the most scarring legacies of the three-year war. South Korean officials say that about 500 of those POWs — now in their 80s and 90s — might still be alive, still waiting to return home. In part because they’re so old, South Korea says it’s a government priority, though a difficult one, to get them out.

Almost nothing was known about the lives of these prisoners until 20 years ago, when a few elderly soldiers escaped, sneaking from the northern tip of North Korea into China and making their way back to South Korea. A few dozen more followed, and they described years of forced labor in coal mines. They said they were encouraged to marry North Korean wives, a means of assimilation. But under the North’s family-run police state, they were designated as members of the “hostile” social class — denied education and Workers’ Party membership, and sent to gulags for even minor slip-ups, such as talking favorably about the quality of South Korean rice.

When the war ended with a July 27, 1953, armistice agreement that divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, about 80,000 South Korean soldiers were unaccounted for. A few, like Lee Jae-won, were presumed dead. Most were thought to be POWs. The two Koreas, as part of the armistice, agreed to swap those prisoners, but the North returned only 8,300.

The others became part of an intractable Cold War standoff, and the few POWs who have escaped say both Koreas are to blame. The South pressed the North about the POWs for several years after the war, but the issue faded from public consciousness — until the first successful escape of a POW, in 1994. The North, meanwhile, has said that anybody living in the country is there voluntarily.

South Korea took up the POW issue with greater force six years ago, as it became clear that a lengthy charm offensive — known as the Sunshine Policy — wasn’t leading the North to change its economic or humanitarian policies. During a 2000 summit with Kim Jong Il, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung didn’t even bring up the issue. But by 2007, the South was talking about the POWs in defense talks. And by 2008, under conservative President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea offered aid to win the prisoners’ release.
But with relations between the two governments badly frayed, the countries haven’t discussed the issue since military-to-military talks in February 2011.

“Time is chasing us,” said Lee Sang-chul, a one-star general at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense who is in charge of the POW issue.

But without North Korea’s cooperation, Lee said, the South has little recourse to retrieve its soldiers. Lee said that, realistically, the POWs have only one way to return home: They have to escape.

Hopes that withered
(Continued at the link below)

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