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[Ilyo Seoul](9/20/2019)An Interview with KWAFU President Lee Mi-il
Name: Hwang Kihyun
2019-10-02 14:50:02  |  Hit 1422

An Interview with KWAFU President Lee Mi-il

 By Hwang Ki-hyun, Ilyo Seoul

 

 “I want to confirm for myself the bodies of South Koreans buried near the bank of the Daedong River.”

In the wee hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950, North Korea mounted an illegal invasion of North Korea as part of a military operation called “Storm.” The invasion came as a surprise to South Korea. Most South Korean soldiers were on rest and recreation for the weekend or otherwise not on their military bases. Faced with a surprise attack by North Korea, the South Korean military suffered retreat after retreat having failed to put up a strong defense. Just three days after the war began, South Korea – also known officially as the Republic of Korea – suffered the indignity of having its capital, Seoul, taken by North Korean troops.

South Korea’s military continued to flounder in the face of North Korean troops, and soon South Korea’s entire territory, except for a small sliver of land near Busan, was taken by enemy forces while South Korean troops formed their last line of defense at the Nakdong River. Meanwhile, North Korean leaders, who fully expected to soon take control over the entire country, committed terrible war crimes, including the abduction of intellectuals and other leaders active in South Korean society. An estimated 100,000 people were abducted by North Korea at the time. Even after more than 70 years following the end of the war, families of those forced to part with their loved ones are still in the dark about their fate. Families of the abduction victims have been unable to forget their loss and formed the Korean War Abductees’ Family Union (KWAFU), which, to this day, gives voice to victims of North Korea’s abduction campaign. Ilyo Seoul recently met with KWAFU Director Lee Mi-il to hear more about her organization and the abductee issue.

The full interview with Director Lee can be found below.

 “North Korean leaders are clearly a group of criminals for abducting 100,000 people”

“North Korea will collapse if we (South Korea) stop giving them anymore money”

Q. What does KWAFU do?

As the name of our organization suggests, KWAFU has fought for a full investigation into North Korea’s wartime abductions and the repatriation of the 100,000 South Koreans taken by the regime during the war. North Korea, for its part, has never admitted to abducting any South Korean citizen since the Armistice Agreement meetings that ended the Korean War. KWAFU has uncovered documents and other evidence, however, that shows what the North Koreans are saying is false. KWAFU has fought for the passage of the ‘Act on Finding the Truth of the Damage from North Korea’s Abduction during the Korean War and the Recovering Honor of the Victims’ to recover the honor of the abductees, and has made efforts to recover their place in modern Korean history. We are also fighting to repatriate the abductees back to South Korea. We also are working to ensure that North Korea takes responsibility for the crimes it has committed through, for example, international pressure and sanctions. We don’t believe that the use of “carrots” (as opposed to “sticks”) is the right way to deal with North Korea.

KWAFU intends to fight until North Korea takes appropriate measures to deal with the problem and those responsible face justice for the abductions. The first family union focused on the abductee issue was established in Busan in August 1951. The current organization was formed on November 30, 2000, to continue the work of the first family union. When I heard former (and now deceased) South Korean President Kim Dae-jung announce that there were only around 400 abductees, I knew I couldn’t just sit around, so I established the organization. I even published advertisements in the Chosun Ilbo and other newspapers announcing the organization’s establishment. Today, we have around 700 family members of the abductees who are KWAFU members.  

Q. How is the organization run?

After ‘Act on Finding the Truth of the Damage from North Korea’s Abduction during the Korean War and the Recovering Honor of the Victims’ was established in 2010, we have been receiving KRW 100 million from the South Korean government each year. Up until 2010, we survived off membership fees and private assets. While the government still provides us with funding, we still must cover about 20% of our costs, or about KRW 20 million won. We can’t use that money from the government for personnel costs or for our operations. Essentially, we need even more money to run our organization than before we were receiving government funding because we must hire more employees to conduct projects. But, we can’t give up the money from the government to avoid the extra cost and do nothing (smiles).

Q. You’d agree, however, that it is still not really that well known that South Koreans were abducted during the war, right?

I recently discovered the reason for that, namely the fact that there are many people in South Korea who simply bow down to North Korea, desire friendly ties with North Korea, and who are frankly little more than spies for North Korea. These people, however, are not people without any status in society; they are people who have lots of power in South Korea. Whenever we hold a demonstration, there have been many people who have come over to us and picked a fight by calling us “pro-American.” There have even been people who have told us to call abductees people who “voluntarily” went to North Korea.

I knew, however, that this day would come. Now people who support anti-communism are considered old-fashioned. In short, people today can’t freely talk about crimes committed by North Korea. Of course, it’s not like we as an organization can simply complain about why South Korean society has become like this. The South Korean government only focuses on ensuring its people eat and live well. Government officials have become snobbish, and have given taxes South Koreans have paid to North Korea without any strings attached. South Korea is dependent on North Korea now. That’s because South Korea put everything on the line with money. North Koreans are starving to death, but South Korea has simply focused on helping the regime. We shouldn’t be engaging in dialogue with North Korea. If we don’t hand over money to them anymore, North Korea will collapse.

Q. What kind of people were abducted during the war?

People who loved their families were abducted. They could have just run away without their families, but they couldn’t leave them. They hid out to escape North Korean soldiers, but many were captured when they went to see their families. That’s how organized the North Korean effort to abduct them was. North Korea created cell-level people’s committees as soon as it captured Seoul. The committees were able to be established because of socialists and Workers’ Party of Korea members living in South Korea. There was a case where a father was abducted to save his son after North Korean soldiers took his son hostage. For another case, a man’s wife hated him all her life because he fled from the North Korean soldiers and his son was taken to the North instead of him.  

Q. Has the South Korean government provided support to your cause in some way? Japan’s government has taken a proactive stance on the abductee issue.

After the Law Concerning Truth Investigations for Korean War Era North Korean Abductees and the Restoration of Their Honor was supported by and passed under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, not much has happened, except for an investigation report into the abductions and the establishment of a memorial. The memorial was built to recover the honor of the abductees. The current government, however, doesn’t do anything to promote the issue in South Korea, although they haven’t said they will cut funding for us. I’m very envious of Japan and wonder if South Korea will ever have a similar view of the issue. Of course, the conditions faced by Japan and South Korea regarding the issue are different, but both countries need to believe that the lives of their citizens are precious. Some time ago, I went to Japan to attend an event and the Japanese prime minister went down on his knees in front of the families of abductees and asked what his government could do for them. He didn’t just make a speech and then leave.

Q. What do you want to achieve from your organization’s work?

I want to go to the Daedong River with other KWAFU members. I heard from a journalist who was a wartime correspondent during the Korean War that large numbers of South Korean civilians were buried by North Korea near the river. The journalist even drew me a map. We have been able to discover through American State Department documents information about a mass killing near the Daedong River. My ultimate goal is to first make sure North Korea collapses, and then visit the site of the killing with my family, and also for those responsible in North Korea to be punished.

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