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Forgotten Victims: Abductees and their Families
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2015-04-08 21:01:00
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Forgotten Victims: Abductees and their Families

Abductee Min-Kyo Lee

On August 12, 1977, two South Korean high school students, Min-Kyo Lee (then 18) and his friend, Seung-Min Choi (then 17), were abducted by a North Korean agent. They were visiting a beach on Hong Island during their summer vacation when the North Korean espionage agent kidnapped them on his way back to North Korea. Neither returned home. In her interview with NKHR, Mrs. Tae-Ok Kim, mother of Min-Kyo Lee, shared her heartbreaking story of losing her son.

Mrs. Kim’s life completely changed after her son’s disappearance. For nearly 20 years, Mrs. Kim and her husband, Mr. Heon-Wu Lee, did not know that their son had been abducted by North Korea. They believed that their son was still in South Korea and made numerous inquiries to South Korean police department for many years. Meanwhile, the police insisted that they two boys had simply run away from home.  Refusing to accept this theory, the parents traveled across the country several times searching for their sons.  During one of their trips, Mr. Lee had an accident and suffered a serious injury, resulting in paralysis. He passed away six years later without ever knowing that his son was being held in North Korea.

In 1997, South Korea’s Agency for National Security Planning (NSP) found out for the first time that Mrs. Kim’s son was abducted to North Korea. NSP made this discovery after investigating several North Korean agents who had been caught in South Korea. Two NSP agents came to Mrs. Kim’s house to ask for photos of her disappeared son. When the photos were shown to the North Korean agents, more than one agent confirmed that her son was living in Pyongyang and had been recruited to teach North Koreans in espionage training.

After Mrs. Kim found out that her son had been abducted by a North Korean agent, she made a request to meet the North Korean spies in South Korean captivity. She met with two of them, and though she did not know it at the time of the meeting, one of the two had been the very agent who had kidnapped her son on Hong Island.

Most recently, in 2011, Mrs. Kim’s son was verified as having been alive in North Korea in 2005. This verification came in the form of a 2005 Pyongyang Census that the South Korean media outlet Chosun Weekly obtained. The Census listed the names and personal information of over 2 million citizens 18 and older living in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Within this list, the names of 21 South Koreans who had been abducted were found. One of these 21 abductees was Min-Kyo Lee. It was reported that Min-Kyo Lee and his wife Jin-Suk Kim were living in Palgol 2-dong, Mangyondae district in Pyongyang. He was working as an instructor at Liaison Office 112 of the Korean Workers’ Party.

No words can express Mrs. Kim’s pain of losing her son. Although she is not able to see him, Mrs. Kim was relieved to hear that he is alive and well with his family in North Korea. In her final words, she expressed her desire for the South Korean government to take more responsibility and interest in supporting the family members of the abductees.

Abductee Gwang-mo Jeong

On June 5, 1970, Gwang-mo Jeong (then 21 years old) and 19 navy members were patrolling the Yellow Sea near the Northern Limit Line (NLL). Late that afternoon, two North Korean high-speed gun boats suddenly opened fire on the South Korean Navy vessel. The South Korean Navy ship, along with 20 men aboard, was taken to North Korea. None were returned to South Korea. Mr. Yun-mo Jeong, giving a talk about his brother’s abduction, shared his family’s painful experience after the abduction.

Mr. Yun-mo Jeong was the fifth child in a family of two brothers and three sisters. He was in high school when his older brother, Gwang-mo was abducted by North Korean gun boats while serving in South Korean Navy. He still remembers the day when he returned from school and saw his parents receive the news.

Mr. Jeong’s father made several inquiries to the South Korean government requesting his son’s repatriation. He also made inquiries to international humanitarian agencies like the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the United Nations at various points with other family members and activists.

In 1971, Mr. Yun-mo Jeong’s father met with members of Chongryon, the pro-North Korea community of ethnic Koreans in Japan, to try to get information about his son. It was an act of desperation. As parents, they could not bear to simply wait for the South Korean government to do something for their son’s return. However, there was a tremendous risk attached to this meeting, and Mr. Jeong’s father had to pay the price. At that time, any engagement with groups such as the Chongryon was considered suspicious and possibly treasonous behavior. When it was discovered that Mr. Jeong’s father had met with members of the pro-North Korea group while visiting Japan for work, he was immediately taken away for investigation upon landing in South Korea. He ultimately spent five years in prison.

Instead of treating Mr. Jeong’s family as victims of an international crime, the South Korean government imprisoned Mr. Jeong’s father for attempting to find his son. Mr. Jeong and his other siblings had to endure discrimination and stigma placed on families of abductees. His status as an abductees’ family was always an obstacle to getting a job. At the end of his presentation, Mr. Yun-mo Jeong expressed his desire for the South Korean government to help family members get life verification status of their loved ones in North Korea.

Stories compiled by NKHR Campaign Intern Katie Choi