North Koreans are ridiculing two of the five fishermen who drifted into South Korean waters earlier this month for willingly returning to the isolated country when they had a chance to defect to the wealthier South, sources inside the country said.
The five men, who were members the military maritime industry in the city of Chongjin of North Hamgyong province, left from the port in Saenaru to fish for squid in early July, sources said.
But after their boat experienced mechanical problems, they drifted south of a maritime border into waters near South Korea’s sparsely populated Ulleung Island, where the South’s coast guard rescued them from the damaged vessel on July 4.
Although Pyongyang demanded the return of all five fishermen, South Korea said it would send back only two who asked to return to the North, while letting the others defect on humanitarian grounds.
Residents of Chongjin, one of north Korea’s largest cities, consider the ones who wanted to return as “number-one stupid,” while the fisherman who stayed in South Korea have been complimented as “clever,” sources from North Hamgyong province said.
The two who returned were repatriated on July 14 at the truce village of Panmunjom between North and South Korea.
Furthermore, residents of Chongjin were shocked that the three fishermen who requested asylum in South Korea were members of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, the country’s sole governing party, a resident of the city told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Because the two non-party members returned of their own free will, they were derided by people who said that non-Workers’ Party members are better than those who belong to the party in terms of loyalty,” he said.
Locals also joked that the two fishermen had not joined the Workers’ Party because they were dumb, he said.
“Those fisherman who went back to North Korea did not receive an award; instead, they received a harsh interrogation from the State Security Department,” said a resident who lives near Saenaru, referring to one of the country’s chief security and intelligence agencies. “The families of the three fishermen who stayed in South Korea did not receive any punishment, so local residents laugh even more at two fishermen who came back.”
Locals are speechless
At first, when the fishermen did not return after two days, maritime authorities at the port assumed that their boat was involved in an accident, the source from Chongjin said.
Then around July 10, they believed something more serious had happened after central government authorities summoned the fishermen’s families to Pyongyang, he said.
“Members of the Workers’ Party used to be loyal to the supreme leader [Kim Jong Un], but nowadays, they are known as ‘those who know how to live properly’ or ‘smart ones,’” said another source from North Hamgyong province.
Local residents are speechless about the two wanting to return to North Korea when they were given a chance to live in the South, a goal for which other North Koreans have risked their lives, he said.
North and South Korea usually return citizens who have drifted into each other’s waters in a disputed maritime boundary area. The South’s policy is to let North Korean fishermen who have wandered into its maritime territory decide whether to return home.
The country had repatriated two North Korean fishermen it rescued off its east coast in February and five others last month after they all declared their wish to return home, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
Written by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.