Former Blue House security chief says N. Korean fishers were repatriated for S. Koreans’ safety

Posted on : 2022-07-18 17:18 KST Modified on : 2022-07-18 17:18 KST
Chung Eui-yong released a written position statement on the 2019 expulsion of two North Korean fishers
Chung Eui-yong, the former Blue House national security advisor, appears before the National Assembly. (Yonhap News)
Chung Eui-yong, the former Blue House national security advisor, appears before the National Assembly. (Yonhap News)

A former Blue House national security advisor said there was “no reason to hesitate” in the decision to repatriate North Korean fishers in 2019.

Chung Eui-yong, who previously served as director of the Blue House National Security Office, also shared specific details about the criminal acts of the fishers, who allegedly killed 16 people.

He went on to criticize the actions of the current administration under President Yoon Suk-yeol.

“Even if [the current administration] wishes to repudiate the past administration, it is destructive to its own administration system for it to now overturn a matter that was decided upon and carried out according to law based on discussions among various government offices,” he remarked.

With the Yoon administration characterizing the fishers’ repatriation as a “crime against humanity” and announcing plans for a large-scale investigation, the comments were an example of pushback from a senior member of the Moon Jae-in administration, which was responsible for the decision to send the fishers back to North Korea.

On Sunday, Chung published a “position statement of the expulsion of violent offenders.” In it, he disclosed details about the murders committed by the fishers and their escape, as determined during the joint questioning process.

Chung explained that the murders were committed as “retaliation for harsh behavior by the captain,” with the other crew members killed “to ensure that the crime would not be discovered.”

“They summoned each of the 13 crew members in turn on the pretext of taking turns on night watch and killed all of them in the space of one night,” he said.

After their acts, they returned to North Korea, but headed out to sea again when an accomplice was apprehended, Chung said, adding that they “repeatedly fled northward over a three-day period” before being “apprehended and escorted by special forces from the South Korean Navy.”

“Their account [during question] aligned fully with the intelligence our military had obtained after North Korean authorities arrested the other accomplice,” he added.

Explaining that it would have been “effectively impossible to punish them based on their confession alone,” Chung asked, “Who protects the lives and safety of the South Korean public if those people end up integrated into South Korean society without any kind of punishment?”

He also rebutted claims by the ruling People Power Party (PPP) that the fishers were expelled to pave the way for Seoul to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to attend a special South Korea-ASEAN summit.

“We never received any prior request from North Korea to repatriate these violent offenders, and since you need to verify the other side’s extradition intent in the case of a deportation, we first sounded out the North’s intentions,” he explained.

Chung added that the South Korean government gave a detailed explanation to this effect to the National Assembly at the time. Responding to the PPP’s proposal for a special prosecutor’s investigation and parliamentary audit into the matter, he said, “It should also be determined through a special prosecutor and parliamentary audit for what reason and through what process the current administration overturned the existing determination.”

In response, the presidential office stressed that its actions were “not a political attack” and requested “good faith cooperation with the investigation.”

In a briefing Sunday, Choi Young-bum, the senior presidential press secretary, said, “The essence of this issue is the fact that defecting fishers whose case should have been handled according to South Korean law were instead sent back to their likely deaths as the North desired.”

“Even the report to the National Assembly was something they were forced into doing after the local commander’s text report was leaked to the media,” he noted.

“If this was all above board, why did the deputy director of the National Security Office receive a direct report by text message from a field officer without the minister of national defense’s knowledge, in disregard of the normal chain of command?” Choi asked.

The remarks were an apparent reference to the fact that the situation ended up being leaked to the outside when the repatriation plan — which was reported via mobile phone text message by a Joint Security Area battalion leader to National Security Office First Vice Director Kim Yu-geun — was captured by a news photographer.

“If the ruling and opposition parties agree on it, there is no way to avoid a special prosecutor’s investigation and parliamentary audit, nor is there any reason to avoid it,” Choi said.

“I’m curious whether the opposition party believes they can gloss over the truth and trust in their parliamentary majority,” he added.

The Ministry of Unification also announced Sunday that video footage captured by one of its staff members showed the moments when the North Korean fishers were being repatriated via Panmunjom.

“We’re currently conducting a legal examination to see whether we can submit that footage to the National Assembly,” the ministry said.

By Um Ji-won, staff reporter

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