| An 85-year-old South Korean prisoner of war is imprisoned in North Korea after being forcefully repatriated by China while trying to escape the North three years ago, sources on North Korea said Thursday.
According to the sources, the elderly prisoner of war identified only as his surname Jeong is incarcerated at the Chongori correctional facility in North Hamgyong Province. He is said to have been sentenced to five years in prison after being repatriated to the North in 2010 for trying to escape the communist country. The sources learned about his whereabouts when a North Korean who was recently released after serving time in the same prison asked for help from sources in the South.
Jeong is known to have been caught by the North Korean military in 1952 while fighting in the Korean War as a member of the Third Division of the Fifth Corps of the South Korean Army. After doing labor work at the North`s notorious Aoji coal mine, he attempted to flee from the North with his family in August 2009, only to be arrested by Chinese public security officers. The Chinese authorities detained him and his family for six months before repatriating them to the North. The South Korean government came under severe criticism from lawmakers as well as civic groups for its failure to bring Korean War prisoners to the South.
"When Jeong was held in China in 2010, he had already been in a bad shape, being very skinny and suffering from a partial facial paralysis," a source who helped Jeong at that time said. "We have to do something to help him, as his health is likely to have aggravated in the prison." The source added that although he has to complete his sentence until 2015, it is unlikely he will survive under the current health condition. The Chongori correction facility is so notorious for its harsh treatment of prisoners that it is called the "second Yodok concentration camp."
At a time when the North denies the existence of Korean War prisoners and when the inter-Korean relations are frozen, the South Korean government finds it extremely difficult to help him. Park Sun-young, head of a foundation campaigning for the repatriation of South Korean prisoners of war in the North, urged the government to bring Jeong to the South even if it has to apply the "Freikauf" model, under which West Germany offered money to East Germany for the release of political prisoners. South Korea`s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told the National Assembly on Wednesday that Seoul will study various ways to bring back the South Korean war prisoners and abductees in the North, including the West German money-for-prisoner scheme.