The process of the government’s deporting the two North Korean fishermen back to the communist nation is full of doubtful points. First, even though it is not reasonably explainable that the two men killed 16 fellow crew members onboard a small vessel, the government wrapped up the investigation and repatriated the two just in five days. The vessel, which should have preserved as evidence, was also cleaned and disinfected upon the request of the National Intelligence Service (NIS). The incident came to be known accidentally through a text message sent by a lieutenant colonel at the Joint Security Area (JSA) to the Office of National Security at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo was not aware of the report.
When North Koreans arrive in the South by land or sea, they are supposed to be protected in the following confidential procedures. However, the latest repatriation was kept in the dark not only from the public but also from the Ministry of Unification and the NIS. The presidential security office said it executed its authority to make the decision as the unification ministry and the intel agency did not provide opinions. Yet, the incident raises suspicions over why Cheong Wa Dae sent them back so hurriedly and whether it has had similar incidents in the past.
A separate investigation should take place to understand who inquired into the case and how the process went on. In June, the defense ministry lied that a North Korean ship was found drifting in waters, while in fact the ship had confessed that it anchored at the South Korean port of Samcheok. Back then, the presidential office blamed the defense ministry for carelessness, but it turned out that an executive official at the national security office was in attendance at the briefing. Suspicions arose that the ministry and the presidential office had colluded in advance and lawmakers called for an investigation, but it just blew over. We should not let another incident fade into history. There needs to be an investigation by an organization independent of the presidential office.
A North Korean fisherman apparently collapsed to the ground after seeing North Korean soldiers at the Military Demarcation Line, not knowing at all that they were going to be repatriated. They expressed intention to defect to the South, but Seoul did not acknowledge their intent citing a possibility of flight. Granted, the government does not need to accept North Koreans who aim to flee the North only because they committed serious crimes and try to avoid punishment. Yet, it is also doubtful whether its decision to leave them to North Korea’s judicial proceedings against their will is appropriate. This was an incident that required careful review over time. It should be revealed why the government hastened to return them back to Pyongyang.