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Presidential office accuses Moon administration of pushing NK fishermen to death

Released photos of two North Korean fishermen’s repatriation at Panmunjom (Ministry of Unification)
Released photos of two North Korean fishermen’s repatriation at Panmunjom (Ministry of Unification)

The former administration pushed North Korean fishermen to their deaths by repatriating them to the North, the presidential office said in a press briefing on Sunday, hitting back at a former national security adviser’s claim that the fishermen were “heinous killers.”

“What is at the core of this issue is that (the former Moon Jae-in administration) pushed the North Korean fishermen to their deaths when they should have been taken into the South in accordance with the law,” said Choi Young-bum, senior presidential secretary for press affairs.

The incumbent Yoon Suk-yeol administration strongly criticized the previous Moon administration and the then-ruling Democratic Party of Korea for repatriating two North Korean fishermen against their will in 2019.

Photos have been released last week from the Ministry of Unification showing two North Korean men being handed over to North Korea at Panmunjom with their eyes covered and hands tied.

“I believe the opposition party and officials from the former administration should respond to the people’s calls for them to be cooperative with the investigation, and not devising political attacks,” Choi said.

The senior presidential secretary also rejected claims by Chung Eui-yong, the first National Security Adviser to former President Moon, in which Chung called the North Korean defectors “heinous killers” to justify their repatriation as legitimate.

“It is a serious problem to label the North Korean fishermen as ‘heinous killers’ without a proper investigation. The government should have fully investigated in accordance with our law and come to a conclusion,” Choi said.

“It is also a fallacy that (the North Korean fishermen) did not have any intentions for defection (to the South). If so, why did they ignore their handwritten note revealing their intentions for the defection?”

Earlier in the day, the former national security adviser released a statement to claim that the North Korean defectors did not state their intentions for defection to the South until very late, and that the government at the time judged their statements as insincere.

Calling the fishermen “heinous criminals,” Chung said they were fleeing after brutally killing 16 of their colleagues with a hammer and an ax.

“They are not just some murderers killing one or two people. They are notorious, heinous killers,” Chung said in the statement.

Chung also denied the claim that the Moon administration decided to repatriate the North Koreans upon the request of the North. It was the South Korean government that asked the North to take back the two men, he said.

“Some claim we should accept the North Koreans as defectors according to the Constitution, but our domestic law does stipulate that such criminals who committed nonpolitical and serious crimes, such as murder, should be expatriated.”

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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