The human consequences of the Korean War still reverberate – sixty years after the armistice was agreed. This week I encountered some of those consequences when I met with two of the families of Korean War abductees and the pain of separation was still quite evident – even after the passage of so much time. A separate group came to describe a further abduction which occurred in 1969 and a son decsribed how he has been separated from his father ever since.They were at Westminster to give their heart rending testimonies.
Lee Mi-il’s father, Lee Seong-hwan was one of an estimated 100,000 people who were abducted by the North Koreans during the course of hostilities and never allowed to return to their families.
Mr.Lee and his family had been trapped in their apartment after the North Koreans captured Seoul and blew up the Han River bridge.
On September 4th 1950 a North Korean major came for Mr.Lee, accused him of giving money to those fighting the Communists, and took him away. His wife, who was heavily pregnant with their second child, and is now in her nineties, has never seen him again or heard any news about his fate.
She has spent a lifetime waiting for him to return.
Her daughter says: “My mother says she has given up hope of seeing him before she dies, but I know she still has hope in her heart.” His daughter adds “I have promised that I will not stop my journey to find him until the end of time.”Mr.Lee’s story, and that of his wife and daughter, is one of several testimonies contained in a short book with the well-chosen title “Ongoing Tragedy”.
The day after I met Lee Mi-I, I met Hwang In-cheol, the son of another abductee – Hwang Won. His father was abducted sixteen years after the Korean War, in December 1969. His father worked as a programme director at Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and was travelling on an internal domestic Korean Airlines flight from Gangneung to Seoul. North Korean hijacked the plane and 39 of the passengers were repatriated 66 days later. Another 11 were never returned, including Hwang’s father.
The International Red Cross tried to open lines of contact but North Korea simply said it was impossible to say whether the abductees were alive or not. Then in 2011 Pyongyang claimed that the abductees were there through their own free will. An escapee has confirmed that he has seen Hwang’s father alive. Hwang has tried to get his own Government in Seoul to raise his father’s case but says they have failed to do so – and although he has written to the North Korean authorities on three occasions he has had no reply. The last time he saw his father he was just two years of age.
Cases like Hwang’s and Lee’s graphically illustrate that walls have not only been built which separate a nation but walls have been erected within families and communities separating kith and kin; leaving a bitter legacy which both sides should address by documenting the stories of abductees , establishing as much information as can be ascertained, and enabling those who have experienced the visceral pain of separation to find some solace and some closure. If North Korea wanted to send a signal that it understands the pain of human separation it would respond to Mr.Hwang’s requests and allow Mrs.Lee to end her says knowing what happened to her husband.