South Korea to push U.N. for return of its POW’s

President-Elect Lee Myung Bak’s transition team  is speaking more about its plans to finally bring home about 560 prisoners of war  it believes North Korea is still holding, in violation of the 1953 Armistice agreement. 

South Korea may seek help from the international community in pressing North Korea to return South Korean prisoners of war, the Defense Ministry said Saturday.   North Korea has so far balked at South Korean requests to return POWs, saying it has never held any South Korean citizens against their will.

“The government plans to refer the issue of POWs to the international community so it could influence North Korea to return the prisoners,” the ministry said in a recently released book on the prisoners.   The government, in particular, will ask the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution on the return, the book said.  [Yonhap]

Recently, several of those POW’s have escaped from North Korea, despite getting no help from their own government.  This could be a game-changer, and not because of anything that will or will not happen in the U.N.  (The U.N.?  Solve anything?  When pigs fly and  Mormons rap.)  

But as a reader e-mails, when South Korea starts to push for the return of its prisoners of war, it will be a diplomatic tipping point.  It’s a given that North Korea will be furious about this, which must terrify our  State Department.  Congressional conservatives  bristled when  State tested the waters for de-listing North Korea as a terror sponsor despite Japanese concerns about its abducted citizens.   Not even  State  could refuse to help South Korea push this resolution at the U.N., however;  after all, those ROK soldiers fought next to Americans.  For obvious reasons, Japan will embrace South Korea’s shift, and there’s reason to hope that South Korea could finally realize how many interests it shares with Japan (especially if you happen to be really, really stoned).

I once went to hear two escaped South  Korean POW’s describe the conditions they suffered in the North, and I retold their story here.  One POW’s wife, who waited  faithfully for her husband for 50 years, braved Chinese police and oxygen-thieving South Korean diplomats to rescue him.

There’s also another encouraging rumor — that South Korea could join John Bolton’s brainchild, the  Proliferation Security Initiative.  For its part,  Lee’s transition team is saying  “not yet,” but that the idea is under consideration for the longer term.  Recall that the United States had asked  Roh’s government to join the PSI, and after a long Hamlet act, Roh declined due to fears  that it would  —  all together, now  — antagonize North Korea.

Hat tip to a reader.


  1. I wrote about this extensively on my blog – not specifically about the POW issue extensively but about the “tipping point” idea.

    It will be very interesting to watch how NK reacts to what has been coming out of the Lee camp so early on – like the Unification Ministry axing or down sizing and especially the POW issue as well as the West Sea dead and pro-US notes.

    Given how NK is — they will have to respond to this stuff, and how they respond will give me – I believe – some idea of how little or much North Korea is still hurting.

    Basically, I believe NK believes it can’t appear weak – whether from a internal or external view point —- and it will take the Lee camp’s statements as a challenge, but it still needs stuff from SK and has to calculate how much it might piss off China or deminish Washington’s desire to pursue our own Sunshine Policy since Bush’s flipflop.

    I think we stand at least a real chance that we might see the setting off of a chain of events that takes Lee and NK and perhaps the US far down a path none of them want to go.

    Just from the handful of things I know about Lee, he doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would back down easily if challenged by the North.

    And though I think his primary NK policy will be to keep the North alive, Pyongyang might force his hand (and America’s) by how it reacts to what I consider Lee just playing to his South Korea base.

    This year and early 2009 should be interesting to watch…