In a development that might create a far-reaching legal precedent on the fractured peninsula, a South Korean court directed Pyongyang ‘s leader Kim Jong Un to pay two former prisoners of war (POW), who spent decades as slave laborers in the north.
According to a advocacy organization representing the plaintiffs, the decision marked the first time a South Korean court asserted authority over Pyongyang or imposed a restitution request against its members. The two men-one surnamed Han, 87, and the other Ro, 90-say they were captured during the Korean War of 1950-53, but never repatriated after the armistice that brought an end to hostilities.
Instead, they claim they were required to operate for decades at coal mines and other facilities before they left the North through China. In 2000, Mr Ro came back to the South, and a year later, Mr Han. They brought the complaint in 2016, alleging that in the North they had sustained “massive emotional and physical injury. In fact, the Seoul Central District Court ordered the North and leader Kim to pay each one 21 million won (S$24,470), a spokesman for the court told Agence France-Presse.
Following the ruling, a civic group supporting the two said they would take legal action under Seoul ‘s control to seize North Korean assets, such as copyright fees for state TV Pyongyang.
By the end of the war, 170,000 North Korean and Chinese captives were housed in the POW camps of the United States-led UN forces, while 100,000 South Korean and UN troops were captured in the North, according to data from Seoul’s War Memorial of Korea.
According to the Seoul authorities, Pyongyang repatriated only 8,343 South Koreans after the Armistice. Since then the South has raised the issue many times, but the North has maintained that there have been no former South soldiers held against their will. Civic organizations claim that, between 2000 and 2001, about 80 South Korean POWs fled the North and transferred to the West.
Lawyers defending the two people accepted the decision, claiming exercised authority” over criminal actions conducted by Mr Kim Jong Un” for the first time by a South Korean judge. It’s a is a landmark decision said lawyer Koo Chung-seo adding that paved the way for more civil action against Kim and his government by certain persons. After the failure of a Hanoi meeting between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump in early last year about whether the nuclear-armed North will be able to give away in return for a loosening of sanctions, inter-Korea ties have been in deep freeze.