Seoul confirms man's status from military records

A group representing South Korean nationals detained or abducted by North Korea during and since the 1950-53 Korean War has appealed for the safe return of an elderly South Korean prisoner of war and his wife, detained during an escape attempt by the Chinese authorities, RFA's Korean service reports.

Chun Yong-Il, 72, and his wife Choi Eun-hee, 68, were arrested by Chinese police Nov. 13 while attempting to flee to South Korea, Choi Seong-Ryong, president of the group Families of Abductees by North Korea in South Korea, told RFA. He said the group had brought the matter to the urgent attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Seoul.

"They are in danger of being repatriated to North Korea, so I gave a very urgent message the Foreign Ministry," Choi said, adding that the couple had fled the isolated Stalinist country in June 2003 and tried to take refuge in the South Korean Embassy in September. The couple was refused an interview with officials there, and later tried to board a flight to Seoul in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where they were detained.

"They were told: 'We don�t know you. We have no time to meet people like you. So if you wish to go to South Korea, go ahead,'" Choi said.

However, an official at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense confirmed during an interview with a local broadcaster that Chun was indeed taken prisoner by North Korea during the war. At the time, the defense ministry was unable to confirm whether he was alive or dead, so it reported him dead.

"We checked his military register, and he is surely a prisoner of war," the official told the Yonhap news service.

According to Families of Abductees, Chun joined the army in June 1951 during the Korean War and was captured by Chinese soldiers in July 1953, right before the armistice. Because he was reported dead, his mother received a pension from the defense ministry from 1962 until her death in 1987.

"We visited his hometown, and found out that his four siblings are still alive. And his mother, who passed away, received a pension, which confirms his status as a prisoner of war," Choi told RFA.

Defense ministry statistics estimate that 41,000 soldiers were missing or captured during the war, and around half of them are believed to be dead now. But whereabouts of the rest are still unknown. Ministry officials say it is hard to address the problem in the absence of cooperation from Pyongyang.

"North Korea insists that prisoners of war don't exist, which makes almost impossible for us to bring the issue to the table," defense ministry official Choi Byung-Sung told a local TV station.

The ministry says it has verified the identity of 1,186 POWs based on testimony from North Korean defectors. Among them, five hundred are believed to be alive now. So far, only 32 have succeeded in returning to South Korea. ####


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