North Korea continues to be silent in response to South Korean government efforts to negotiate the release of six South Korean citizens still imprisoned in the DPRK, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) told NK News.
The Moon administration has pressed the issue at least once since coming to power last May, a spokesperson for the unification ministry said on Thursday in followup to a Wednesday statement emailed to NK News.
“The ROK government has made continuous efforts for the release and repatriation of the detained ROK nationals,” the MOU statement said. “However the North remains irresponsive.”
It remains unclear, too, whether Seoul will use recent inter-Korean rapprochement – and an upcoming third summit between the leaders of the two Koreas – to again raise the issue with Pyongyang.
Compared to the ongoing detention of three U.S. citizens in North Korea, the plight of the six prisoners has received little public attention in South Korea and Seoul has been notably quiet on the issue.
Whether the issue was raised during recent inter-Korean talks is also unknown: when NK News asked the MOU if South Korean envoys raised the issue during meetings with Kim Jong Un on Monday, the spokesperson said Thursday that it was not possible to share details about the discussion.
“Since the detainment of Kim Jung-wook in 2013, we have proposed to hold separate inter-Korean meetings to solve this issue and have raised the issue whenever the opportunity arose,” the Wednesday statement explained, “at high-level inter-Korean contact, inter-Korean red cross working level talks, etc.”
The MOU has also reportedly “asked for the release and repatriation of the detainees through official documents under the name of the Unification Minister and the Korean Red Cross president…(as well as trying to) deliver letters of families with the help of international organizations.”
“The ROK government will continue making efforts to solve humanitarian issues including that of detainees and prisoners of war when inter-Korean relations show further improvement,” the statement added.
Among the known detainees are Christian missionaries Kim Jung Wook, who was detained in October 2013, and Kim Kook Kie and Choi Chun Kil, who have been held in captivity since 2014.
Kim Jong Uk was sentenced in May 2014 and received “life compulsory labor” for activities as a “south Korean National Intelligence Service agent.”
“It’s been already 4 years since (Kim Jong Uk) was detained. While other people talk about whether is he is still alive or not, as his brother, I worry about his health,” his brother told South Korea’s Yonhap TV last year.
“Instead of wondering how he is doing, I wonder how he is enduring each day.”
North Korea tried Kim Kook Kie and Choi Chun Kil in June 2015 for “anti-DPRK espionage activities under the manipulation of the U.S. and puppet south Korea,” sentencing them to “indefinite compulsory labor.”
Another detainee is known to be Ko Hyon Chol, whose arrest in the DPRK was announced in July 2016 and was accused of arranging the kidnapping of orphans from North Korea in exchange for cash and being linked to South Korea’s spy service.
Ko appeared in North Korean state media last month, condemning a defector couple in the South and reiterating his links to the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
The other two are believed to be defectors who have been forcibly returned to the North, though North Korean state media has not released information about their trials.
“At the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, North Korea insisted on the release of pro-North Korean political prisoners from South Korea,” said Fyodor Tertitskiy, an NK Pro analyst. “It would make sense for South Korea to demand the same at the third summit.”
Last August, South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) delivered a petition to the United Nations, written by the Citizen’s Organization Conference and signed by several private organizations, calling for the release of detained South Koreans.
Additional reporting by Chad O’Carroll
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Uriminizokkiri, edited by NK News
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