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Abducted fishermen meet Southern brothers for first time in 40 years

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Published : 2014-02-20 23:15
Updated : 2014-02-20 23:22

Park Yang-soo of North Korea (left) and his younger brother Park Yang-gon from the South press their faces together during the family reunions at the Mount Geumgangsan resort on Thursday. (Park Hae-mook and Joint Press Corps)

MOUNT GEUMGANGSAN, North Korea ― At Thursday’s emotional family reunions, Park Yang-gon and Choi Seon-deuk from South Korea drew keen media attention as they rendezvoused with their long-lost brothers abducted some four decades ago.

“You look in good shape, my brother! I am so grateful (that you are alive),” Park, 52, said, nuzzling his brother’s face and fighting back tears with his trembling hands.

His brother Park Yang-soo, 58, mumbled, “We, we ... would have met last year,” referring to the botched inter-Korean plan to hold cross-border reunions in September last year.

During the gathering at the Mount Geumgangsan resort, Park Yang-gon was accompanied by his 17-year-old son, while his elder brother brought his 53-year-old wife.

Park Yang-soo and 24 other fishermen were taken to the North after their two vessels were seized by North Korean agents in the West Sea in December 1972. Only one of the abductees fled the reclusive country and returned home last September.

Apparently to ease his brother’s concerns over his life in the impoverished North, the elder Park stressed, “I have lived a good life under the care of the (ruling Workers’) Party.”

Showing several photos of his son, daughter and granddaughter, the elder Park hoped for reunification.

“I wish we could see reunification as early as possible so that we all can meet together again,” Park said in a weak yet resolute voice.

Choi Seon-deuk, 71, met his brother Choi Yong-chol, who is 10 years younger than him. As soon as they recognized each other, they hugged and broke into tears for several minutes.

“You look exactly the same as you looked four decades ago,” the elder Choi said. “I had thought that I would never be able to see you again in my life.”

Pausing to catch his breath, Yong-chol said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if our families were all able to meet. The two Koreas should not slander each other and should work closely together toward reunification.”

The younger Choi was taken away to the communist state while fishing on a boat in waters off the frontline island of Bangnyeongdo. His boat is known to have been captured after the North Korean navy opened fire on it.

The elder Choi explained to his brother that their two older brothers and three sisters are living in the South, while the younger Choi introduced his wife Park Sun-hwa, who attended the reunions.

“I should have tried harder to reunite with you. We met each other so late. Sorry,” Seon-deuk said, grabbing his brother’s hands tightly.

The Seoul government puts the number of those kidnapped by the North after the end of the Korean War at 517. After the Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, more than 3,830 were abducted by the North. But the majority have been repatriated or defected to the South.

Many South Koreans have been forcibly taken to the North while fishing in waters close to the inter-Korean sea border. Some others were kidnapped by North Korean operatives. A pastor was also abducted while conducting religious activities near the North Korea-China border.

The number of those forcibly taken to the North during the Korean War is estimated at around 100,000.

By Song Sang-ho and Joint Press Corps (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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