Death of a defector‘s wife
North Korea should clarify details
North Korea has claimed in its official letter to a United Nations inquiry that Shin Sook-ja, the wife of South Korean double-defector Oh Kil-nam, died of hepatitis in the Stalinist state.
However, the English-language letter, which was sent to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, didn’t provide details on when and precisely where she died.
The letter, dated April 27, said Oh’s two daughters do not regard him as their father since ``he abandoned his family and drove their mother to death.’’ North Korea also argued that the two daughters ``strongly refused to deal with Oh and asked not to be bothered anymore.’’
The letter is the first official acknowledgement of Shin’s fate. She was allegedly sent to a political prison camp with her two daughters after her husband escaped the North in 1986. Oh, 69, defected to North Korea with his family in 1985 while studying in West Germany.
We evaluate North Korea’s latest move as a positive development in that the reclusive country has, until now, has remained silent on the fate of kidnapped South Koreans and prisoners of war.
Nonetheless, we can’t entirely accept what North Korea claims, given its track record. Watchers say the North had no other alternative but to respond this time after the U.N. raised questions.
Moreover, North Korea said Shin died of hepatitis which she had suffered from since the 1970s but Oh, the retired economist, told reporters in Seoul that his wife had been cured of the condition while in West Germany. The letter also described Shin as the ex-wife of Oh but this is wrong because Oh didn’t remarry after escaping the North.
Most regrettable is that North Korea just touched on Shin’s death and didn’t offer any evidence to support its statement. We remember that North Korea sent what it said were the cremated remains and photos of Megumi Yokota to Japan, who was abducted at the age of 13 by North Korean agents. Yokota’s parents believe that their daughter is still alive in North Korea.
It’s also hard to believe North Korea’s contention that the two daughters rejected their father.
To confirm North Korea’s claim, the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), a Seoul-based rights advocacy group that first petitioned the U.N. body in November last year, plans to ask the North to send Shin’s remains and death certificate via the U.N.
Against this backdrop, we urge North Korea to be sincere in dealing with the case. Specifically, the North should clarify when, where and how Shin died if its claim is true.
At the same time, North Korea should allow Oh to reunite with his two daughters in the U.N. or third countries so he can confirm their real intentions.
We believe that the letter could be North Korea’s first step toward a new era under a new leader.