ROK President Moon Jae-in during last month’s inter-Korean summit requested DPRK leader Kim Jong Un return six South Korean citizens currently detained in the North, South Korea’s Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Relations said on Wednesday.
The comments came following the news that North Korea had released three U.S. citizens into the custody of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Pyongyang to continue preparations for a planned summit between Kim and President Donald Trump.
“We welcome North Korea’s decision to repatriate three U.S. detainees on (May) 9. The North’s determination will be a very positive factor for the successful hosting of the North-U.S. summit,” Presidential Secretary Yoon Young-chan said in a statement, adding that Seoul saw a special significance in their release given that the detainees were all South Korean-born.
“At the South-North summit with chairman of State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom on 27th last month, President Moon Jae-in requested chairman Kim for the swift repatriation of six South Koreans detained in North Korea,” he added.
While Yoon did not comment on the reply given to Moon by Kim, he reiterated the country’s hopes that a resolution would be forthcoming.
“We hope for the expeditious reparation of our detained citizens in the sense of spreading reconciliation between the South and the North and the atmosphere of a spring of peace that has begun to be created on the Korean peninsula,” Yoon said.
Among the known detainees are Christian missionaries Kim Jung Wook (also known as Kim Jong Uk), who was detained in October 2013, and Kim Kook Kie and Choi Chun Kil, who have been held in captivity since 2014.
Kim Jong Wook was sentenced in May 2014 and received a life sentence of “compulsory labor” for alleged activities as an agent of the South’s National Intelligence Service.
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 who has been 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 in February, condemning a defector couple in the South and reiterating that he had been linked to the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
The other two are believed to be defectors who have been forcibly returned to the North.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) in December named one as having the surname “Park.”
The Korean National Police Agency (KNPA) at the time confirmed to NK News that Park had appeared on a South Korean TV show that had also featured former TV star defector Jon Hye Song, known as Lim Ji-hyun in the South.
Jon reappeared in North Korea last June and has since appeared in DPRK state media several times criticizing her life in South Korea.
An official at the National Security Section of the KNPA last year said the government had lost contact with Park in March 2016 when he left the South to visit China.
The sixth South Korean detainee has not been named.
On Wednesday Pyongyang released Kim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim), Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul – three U.S. citizens that had been in North Korean custody.
Kim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim) and Kim Hak-song were detained by North Korean authorities in April and May last year, Kim Dong-chul, has been imprisoned since October 2015.
Both Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song were linked to the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the country’s only private university, and had been accused of carrying out “hostile acts” against the country.
Tony Kim was later alleged to have “aimed to overturn the DPRK” and committed “criminal acts of hostility” against the DPRK.
He was reported to be being held while a “detailed investigation” into his alleged crimes was carried out.
Only one of the three Americans stood trial: Kim Dong-chul was in April 2016 sentenced to ten years’ hard labor for having committed “unpardonable espionage” on behalf of the U.S. and South Korea.
“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” Trump said on social media on Wednesday.
“They seem to be in good health,” he added.
Dagyum Ji provided translation
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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