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A mysterious repatriation

Nov 12,2019
The Moon Jae-in administration secretly repatriated two North Korean defectors just five days after their capture. The case is full of mystery. An increasing number of South Koreans are calling for a thorough investigation of the government’s unprecedented action to return them.

The biggest problem is the stealthy way our government handled the case, which was first revealed after a press camera captured text messages sent by a senior officer at the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom to First Deputy National Security Director Kim You-geun when he was in the National Assembly for an interpellation session on Thursday. The military officer even skipped the normal command chain and directly reported the case to Kim.

Kim, a former Army lieutenant general, also raised controversy for his abuse of power in June, when a North Korean fishing boat approached the Samcheok harbor without any restrictions. The Blue House must explain why it hurriedly had to send the two North Koreans back even when the Ministry of Unification and the National Intelligence Service were both reluctant to do so. The government said that it repatriated them after acquiring information that the North Korean authorities were looking for the two defectors, who allegedly killed 16 other North Koreans on a fishing boat. If that is true, that means our government handed them over even without an official request from Pyongyang.

Our government based its repatriation on the law on North Korean defectors, which can exclude non-political criminals - such as murderers - from government protection. But 18 civic groups in South Korea and the United States issued a statement denouncing the Moon administration for violating the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. South Korea signed it in 1985. And yet, the two North Korean defectors were not even aware of their destiny to be repatriated to North Korea - a country highly suspected of potentially delivering cruel punishments on the two North Koreans - until they arrived at the demilitarized zone.

South Korea has so far allowed North Koreans’ defection in consideration of the regime’s apparent human rights violations. Even our Constitution defines North Korean defectors as South Korean nationals. But the government has not given them a right to court trials. The Moon administration’s explanation can hardly convince the public. If the government continues to hide the truth, the National Assembly must kick off its own investigation into the suspicious case.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 12, Page 34