Go to contents

NK Frees Detained S. Korean Worker After 137 Days

Posted August. 17, 2009 07:21,   


A South Korean worker for Hyundai Asan Corp. who had been detained by North Korea since March 30 was freed yesterday in a surprise move.

Yu Seong-jin, 44, arrived at the South Korean inter-Korean transit office at Dorasan in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, at 7 p.m. along with Hyundai Asan President Cho Kun-shik, who visited the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong. At 5:30 pm, North Korean authorities handed over Yu to company staff.

The North had detained Yu on the charge of condemning its political system and trying to persuade a North Korean worker at the complex to defect.

A spokesman at the North’s Central Special District Development Headquarters said May 1, “(Yu) criticized our honorable regime with malignant intention, interfered with the sovereignty of our republic, and committed grave and serious acts that violated relevant law.”

Pyongyang also refused Yu the right to see his relatives or obtain legal assistance.

Seoul and the Hyundai Group reportedly conducted secret negotiations for the past two months to secure his release. A ranking South Korean official said, “The North was very lukewarm to our request, but changed its stance in the past month and has proactively engaged itself in dialogue recently.”

Another Seoul source said, “The North decided to release Yu before Liberation Day (Aug. 15), as it accepted Aug. 4 Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun’s request to visit Pyongyang.”

Hyun arrived in the North Monday to negotiate Yu’s release. She was originally to return to the South yesterday, but stayed an extra day.

She announced yesterday morning through her group that she would stay another day, and the Unification Ministry in Seoul approved the request for the extension.

Speculation is rising over what message North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will send to the South through Hyun. Since Pyongyang released Yu before Liberation Day, analysts predict a gradual improvement in inter-Korean relations.

Seo Jae-jin, head of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said, “Continuous efforts by the government and the Hyundai Group to free Yu, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s call on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for Yu’s release in his recent visit to Pyongyang seem to have influenced Yu’s release.”

“Seoul will collaborate with Washington to restore inter-Korean relations.”

zeitung@donga.com kyle@donga.com