Four North Korean refugees who spent the last three years in a South Korean consular building in Beijing secretly arrived in South Korea on the 1st. Among them was the family of the late Paek Jong Kyu, a Korean War POW; there was his daughter Young Ok, a 21-year old grandson and 17-year old granddaughter.
Naturally, the three were welcomed most enthusiastically by Young Sook, the 55-year old elder sister of Young Ok. She once believed that her sister would be in Seoul just three months after she entered the ROK Consulate-General in June, 2009. However, it took three years.
|▲ Young Sook, the eldest daughter of late Sergeant Paek Yong Kyu (© DailyNK)|
“I still can’t believe it,” she says when Daily NK meets her on the 5th. “I heard a number of times that they were going to come to South Korea, but it never happened. So, I will only start to believe it once I see her in person”.
It seems like the previous day’s excitement has not yet dissipated. “I found out from the TV news,” she explains vividly. Her family was brought in secretly, apparently because there are seven more defectors still waiting in Shenyang, including two more members of POW families.
In the past three years, Young Sook sent a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea and asked for the help of the Ministry of National Defense. But the only answer she ever heard was, “Please wait a little longer.”
However, then last July Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan Jin mentioned the swift repatriation of POW families to Vice Premier and anointed next Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time.
Then, President Lee Myung Bak raised the same issue in talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao in January this year. China appeared again to be unmoved, however. All the while thinking of her sister and family stuck in these cramped conditions was making Young Sook cry.
But now her heart is lighter. When asked what she plans to do with her family first, Young Sook replies, “I would like to take my sister to the National Cemetery where our father is laid to rest. He will be able to rest in peace once I have brought his second daughter to him.”
Young Sook herself defected in 2002, before conveying her father’s ashes to South Korea in 2004. At that time, the Roh Moo Hyun administration asked for the arrival of the ashes to be kept low key; however, unable to comprehend the position, Young Sook arrived proudly at Incheon International Airport instead. Paek is now buried at the National Cemetery in Daejeon.
When asked what she would like to say to her sister, Young Sook responds immediately, “Gather yourself, and then you’ll be able to raise your son and daughter well. Living in the Republic of Korea is not easy either.”
To the rest of the POW families in North Korea, she also goes on to say, All of you will be able to return to the hometowns of your fathers, so keep the faith; do not resent your father but be thankful and proud of him.”
Unfortunately, POW families in North Korea are categorized as ‘hostile’ under the country’s repressive class system, and as such live life under scrutiny without the chance of upward mobility except via the market. For that reason, some children of POWs come to resent their fathers for providing them with such a miserable life.