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[Editorial] A Country in Which POW’s Family Returns a Decoration

[Editorial] A Country in Which POW’s Family Returns a Decoration

Posted February. 01, 2005 22:29,   


The family of Han Man-taek (72), a South Korean POW, visited Cheong Wa Dae a couple of days ago to return the Order of Military Merit Hwarang with which the government decorated Han. That appears to be a protest of the government’s insincerity in the process in which Han defected from North Korea at the end of last year, was arrested by Chinese police, and then was repatriated to the North. A decoration is honorable and valuable for the person who was awarded and his family as well. A level-headed government should feel ashamed of the fact that the family returned such a valuable decoration.

Nonetheless, amazingly enough, relevant government agencies are showing an attitude that they have done what they should. The Ministry of National Defense argues that it notified the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the fact that Han is a former South Korean POW upon being reported of it by Han’s family. The Foreign Affairs Ministry also says that it relayed the fact to its Chinese counterpart. It sounds like they feel sorry for Han, who is an old man in his 70s, to have been sent back to harm’s way, but there is nothing more that they have to do since there is nothing that they are responsible for.

There are legitimate reasons for criticizing the government’s response to last week’s message from the Chinese government that Han was repatriated to the North. All the government did was merely calling in the Chinese ambassador to Korea and expressed regrets regarding the issue. It should have at least strongly protested to the North and released a statement urging Pyongyang to send Han to the South. Against this backdrop, the public thinks that the government must have led the family into returning the decoration.

The government’s attitude gives a bitter feeling all the more in that it contrasts Washington’s response to the kidnapping of Reverend Kim Dong-shik to North Korea. Twenty U.S. lawmakers, senators and congressmen, recently sent a letter urging Pyongyang to offer a “perfect explanation” and a resolution on Rev. Kim’s state. Had the government paid attention, as much as those U.S. lawmakers did to Rev. Kim, Han would have never repatriated to the North.

It is high time for the government to try aggressively to bring him back to the country. It should know that the families of some 500 South Korean POWs are keen on how Han’s case will conclude. If it turns a blind eye to the appeal of Han’s family, they would no more accept the government as such.