Tue, Jun 10, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Fisherman heads to S Korea after 30 years in the north

AFP , SEOUL

A South Korean fisherman has escaped from North Korea after being kidnapped more than three decades ago and is waiting in China to return to his homeland, an activist said yesterday.

Yoon Jong-soo and 32 other shipmates were captured by a North Korean navy boat while fishing off the South’s east coast on Aug. 8, 1975.

Now aged 66, he is in a South Korean consulate awaiting a ticket to Seoul, said Choi Sung-yong, who heads an association that seeks to rescue abductees and represents their families.

By official counts, 485 South Koreans, mostly fishermen, were seized in the Cold War decades after the 1950 to 1953 Korean conflict and more than 500 prisoners of war were never sent home in 1953.

Yoon was one of those officially listed as having been abducted.

North Korea denies holding any South Koreans against their will even though some have managed to escape and come south.

Choi did not elaborate on Yoon’s rescue, which involved arranging border crossings. If caught in China, refugees from North Korea face repatriation and harsh punishment — possibly even a death sentence.

In an interview published yesterday by South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, Yoon said he and his wife left their home in the North on May 1.

They left their 25-year-old daughter behind for security reasons.

But the wife had a change of heart because of concerns about her daughter when she reached the border on May 4, Yoon said.

He said he had crossed the border river alone and entered the South Korean consulate in the city of Shenyang on May 20.

Yoon said he had been forced to live as a farming machine manager in Kaechon, 70km north of Pyongyang since he was kidnapped.

“Please help my wife and daughter who are just like a doomed fish placed on the dresser,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “They can be punished any time.”

Yoon is the eighth fisherman to have escaped North Korea. Six of them were rescued by Choi.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has pledged to take a firmer line with Pyongyang and to push the regime on its human rights record.

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