Friday, January 05, 2007

With countrymen like this, who needs enemies?!

A fisherman abducted by North Korea 31 years ago is finally on his way home to South Korea on Friday. But Koreans flew into an uproar Thursday as they learned of the manner in which the South Korean consulate in Shenyang responded to his initial desperate pleas for help after he fled the Stalinist country.

Hiding in a safe house in China, Choi Wook-il (67) and his wife from the South, Yang Jeong-ja (66), dialed the consulate to beg for help. "I am Choi Wook-il and I was a crew member of the trawler Cheonwangho abducted to the North from the East Sea in 1975. Since that time I have been living in the North but I resolved to return home and escaped. I am in China now. Can I talk to the consul?"

The response from a female employee: "We only deal with cases and accidents involving South Koreans in the three provinces in Northeast China, and we don't address any North Korean defector issues."

When the couple called again and asked for the person in charge of defector issues, the same woman got on the line. "You just called a moment ago," she scolded.

Only after Yang described their urgent situation did she gave them the mobile phone number of the proper official. But the official handling defectors proved equally unhelpful, demanding to know who gave them his phone number.

The Foreign Ministry posted an apology on its website late Thursday night after coming under fire thanks to the broadcast of a video clip of the consular employee's dealings with Choi. On Friday morning, a government official said Choi has been handed over to the South Korean side and is expected to arrive in Seoul soon.

[Chosun Ilbo]

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