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Another POW Family Defects From North

Posted April. 01, 2006 03:00,   


“I will have no regrets, even if I die now,” said ex-Korean War prisoner of war (POW) Lee Gi-chun (75) on March 31, when he heard that his youngest daughter Lee Bok-hee, 33, and grandchildren Kim Sun-gun, 2, and Koh Il-hyuk, 3, reached Korea safely at Incheon International Airport.

His family’s long saga of escape from North Korea started in August 2004 when Lee succeeded in defecting. It took 19 months for the rest of his seven family members to escape from North Korea in five separate attempts. It finally ended yesterday when his youngest daughter and two grandchildren arrived in Korea.

It is the second time that the entire family of a war prisoner held in North Korea has defected to South Korea. The first was in July of last year, when POW Jang Pan-sun’s entire family escaped to the South.

Lee participated in the Korean War after enlisting in August 1950 as a Korea auxiliary with the U.S. Army. He was assigned to K Company, 38 Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. In December of the same year, he was taken captive by Chinese forces around Gaecheon-gun in Pyongnam.

News from his family in South Korea reached him one day when he was leading a difficult life with a family in the Nanam area, Cheongjin City, Hambuk. A North Korea defection guide had come to see Lee in June of 2004.

Lee made arrangements to meet his family in South Korea in China, and left with his wife Kim Sang-ok, who is now deceased, but they failed to go through a checkpoint in Hoeryeong-gun, and had to return. Lee attempted once more to go to China, but failed again, and in late August by secretly getting close to the border patrol guards, he succeeded in crossing to China on his third try.

At a point, Lee refused his South Korean family’s suggestion to come to South Korea citing, “I can’t go to an impoverished and famished South Korea,” but in November, he came back to his homeland.

His family in North Korea also attempted consecutively to defect from North Korea. In October 2004 his wife Kim, in July of 2005, his second daughter Bok-sil, 36, and son in law Koh Young-nam, 39, succeeded in defecting. His wife and second daughter couple arrived in Korea in May and September of last year respectively.

After setting up a new home in Busan, the family put all their efforts to bringing the remaining youngest daughter family and the son of Bok-sil to Korea.

They were successful in bringing Il-hyuk to Yanji, China in December of last year, and in mid January, the youngest daughter Bok-hee and Sun-gun defected and met with Il-hyuk. On March 31, they finally reached South Korean soil.

Lee could not hide his happiness but expressed sorrow saying, “It would have been better if my wife, who could not sleep because she was worrying over the remaining daughter in North Korea, was still beside me.” His wife died in a traffic accident in November of last year while going to Gimhae City in South Gyeongsang Province.