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[Editorial] POWs and abductees must be duly addressed

Posted August. 28, 2000 20:02,   


The second inter-Korean ministerial talks Tuesday in Pyeongyang draw our special attention. It is not only because the meeting is now being held on a routine and on-going basis, but because the agenda is expected to deal with the essential issues relating to the substance of inter-Korean relations.

It is widely known that the Seoul delegation plans to have intensive consultations with its Pyeongyang counterpart on military and economic inter-Korean issues, over which the first meeting failed to produce any meaningful results.

Military issues between the two Koreas assume central importance for the relaxation of tension and a lasting structure of peace on the peninsula. We hope that the talks make substantial progress over such issues as the establishment of a direct military hotline, a joint military committee and the holding of regular South-North defense ministers' meetings.

The issues of economic assistance and aid also urgently call for such institutional devices as an investment safety agreement, prevention of double taxation and system of international settlements. Without such devices, Seoul`s investments in North Korea cannot be boosted.

What draws our foremost concern, however, relates to inter-Korean humanitarian issues such as the additional reunions of separated families and the North's repatriation of South Korean POWs and abductees to the South. North Korea's defense chairman, Kim Jong-Il, already made it clear that there will be further family reunions in September and October. The two Koreas should come to an agreement to set up permanent reunion centers so that as many families as possible can have reunions at an early date. Visible progress in the reunion issue must come forward.

As Unification Minister Park Jae-Kyu assured us, kidnapped South Koreans and POWs should become a priority on the agenda for Tuesday`s meeting. We hope it will produce positive results to resolve the issue. Some 63 long-term North Korean ex-prisoners, still with Communist convictions, will soon be handed over to the North. They came to the South to destroy our society.We are returning them to the North with our warm farewell. But the South Korean POWs who fought to defend us are wasting away with no certain promise of their return home.

Pyongyang claims that it has no South Korean POWs, but four POWs successfully escaped from North Korea recently. Via a third country, they finally managed to come home to the South. The four POWs finally made it after having gone through enormous ordeals and insurmountable hardship, but they are keeping strangely quiet and avoiding the mass media due to what they say are the instructions of the government's security agents. Why should there be so much difference between the ways in which the two Koreas deal with humanitarian cases?

The abductee case is no different. We don't know whether there are, indeed, some individuals who chose to live in the North. But most of the 400 South Korean abductees were kidnapped while they were fishing. We must see to it that they are returned to their families in the South as soon as possible.

We are well aware, of course, that such humanitarian issues are usually dealt through the channels of the two Koreas' Red Cross Societies. But the inter-Korean ministerial talks must decide the basic directions and principles to address the matter.