S. Korean files suit against alleged NK spy over his abducted father
Hwang In-cheol was only 26 months old when his father got on a plane for a business trip to Seoul on Dec. 11, 1969.
The son hasn't seen his father since his plane was hijacked by a North Korean spy soon after takeoff from Gangneung, a South Korean eastern city near the border with North Korea. The YS-11 with the hijacker and 46 other South Korean passengers plus four crew members landed in North Korea.
After diplomatic efforts, the North allowed 39 passengers to return home through the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas on Feb. 14, 1970. However, the North held Hwang's father, radio producer Hwang Won, six other passengers and four crew members.
Years of appeals for their return were unsuccessful.
The junior Hwang said he has no memory of his father except a black-and-white photo that shows his father holding him as a toddler and another relative in his arms.
"When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me that my father was on a business trip to the United States," Hwang said.
The junior Hwang, now, 45, has launched a legal battle against North Korea in a symbolic gesture to put pressure on the communist country to free his long-lost father and other kidnap victims.
"South Korea should work together with the international community to resolve the abduction issue," he said Tuesday after filing a suit against the North Korean spy at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.
He said he hopes that the North Korean suspect will be convicted and sentenced in absentia in South Korea for his involvement in the hijacking of the twin turboprop airliner.
Choi Eun-suk, a North Korea legal expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, said the suit appears to be a symbolic attempt to try to win the freedom of abductees, noting South Korea has no jurisdiction over North Korea.
"It is impossible to bring the suspect (to South Korea) for questioning," an official of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.
The North has a track record of kidnapping South Koreans and Japanese.
In 2002, then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Pyongyang that the North had abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies on Japanese language and culture.
The North at the time returned five of the abductees and claimed the other eight were dead.
The senior Hwang and the 10 others from the flight are among 517 South Korean civilians Seoul believes are still alive in North Korea after being kidnapped by the North following the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea has repeatedly called for the repatriation of its nationals but Pyongyang denies any kidnappings, claiming any South Koreans in the North are there voluntarily.
"South Korea is making utmost efforts to resolve" the abduction issue, said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk.
In December, South Korea set up a task force that would take charge of efforts to check on the fate of its citizens abducted by North Korea and bring them home, though no significant progress has been reported.
The North has not officially confirmed the fate and whereabouts of the senior Hwang and other kidnap victims.
In 2010, Hwang took the case to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in a desperate bid to get any news about his father.
The U.N. body transmitted the case of the senior Hwang and two other hijacking victims to North Korea in 2011, though there was no reply from Pyongyang, according to Hwang. An e-mail to the U.N. body seeking comment went unanswered.
The junior Hwang said he heard news from an ethnic Korean in China last year that his long-lost father was still alive in Pyongyang, though under constant watch by the North Korean authorities.
Also Tuesday, South Korea proposed holding Red Cross talks with North Korea next week to discuss reinstating temporary reunions of family members who had not seen each other since the war.
South Korea wants to resume regular reunions but none have taken place since October 2010.
Hwang said his father has been detained forcibly in the North for more than four decades. "Does that make him a North Korean?" he asked. (Yonhap)