|The photo shows Shin Suk-ja with her two daughters at a prison camp in South Hamgyeong Province. (Yonhap News)|
North Korea has claimed the wife of a high-profile South Korean died of hepatitis in the communist country, a Seoul-based rights advocacy group said Tuesday.
“Ms. Sin Suk-ja, the ex-wife of Oh, died of the hepatitis that she suffered since 1980s,” Ri Jang-gon, deputy permanent representative for North Korea at the United Nations in Geneva, said in an English-language letter to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
Ri was referring to Oh Kil-nam, who escaped the North alone in 1986, a year after his family was lured to the North via West Germany. His escape led to the detention of his wife and two daughters in a political prison camp.
Several North Korean defectors in the South have testified that they saw Oh’s family in the Yoduk political prison camp.
The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, a Seoul-based rights advocacy group, unveiled Ri’s letter dated April 27 during a press conference in Seoul.
The rights advocacy group petitioned the U.N. body in November to have Oh’s family released.
The letter is the first official acknowledgement of the fate of Shin Sook-ja, who was allegedly sent to the political prison camp with her two daughters after her husband escaped the North.
South and North Korea use different English spellings of names.
The letter did not provide any details on when Shin died. Oh said at the press conference that he had not divorced his wife and that she had been cured of hepatitis before traveling to the North.
He said he did not believe the death notification. “I think she is still alive,” Oh said, adding that he hopes to reunite with his family members and hug them and wipe away their tears.
Oh has been at the forefront of a public campaign to have his family released from North Korea. In November, the U.N. envoy on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman, met with Oh in Seoul and promised to work toward the return of his family.
Ri, the North Korean diplomat, said Oh’s two daughters do not regard him as their father since “he abandoned his family and drove their mother to death.”
He also said the two daughters “strongly refused to deal with Oh and asked not to bother themselves anymore,” and suggested Shin and her daughters had not been arbitrarily detained.
Ri’s claims could not be independently verified. The North has a track record of forcing detainees to make false statements.