‘Tongyeong daughter’ alive in N. Korea
Published : Sep 20, 2011 - 21:19
Updated : Sep 20, 2011 - 21:19
A South Korean woman and her two daughters, whose fate had been unknown after they were imprisoned in North Korea, are alive in a restricted area near the capital city of Pyongyang, an activist who works for the release of South Koreans kidnapped into the North here said Tuesday.

Quoting an unnamed source inside North Korea, he confirmed the survival of the family. He said the mother and daughters were recently moved to the area from a concentration camp where they were placed.

Her husband, O Gil-nam, who entered the North with his family in 1985 and escaped in 1986, has been stepping up efforts to free his wife and daughters, if they are alive. His emotional articles were carried in South Korean and foreign media. On an ad published last month, O pleaded U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon save his 69-year-old wife Shin Suk-ja and two daughters.

Shin, nicknamed “the daughter of Tongyeong” in reference to the city where she was born, appears to have been moved out of the hospital for medical reasons.

She is believed to have been accompanied by her daughters Hye-won and Gyu-won, said Choi Sung-yong, head of a group of South Koreans whose family members were abducted by North Korea.

“While being treated at a hospital in the area, Shin continues to refuse to sign a pledge the North Korean officials demand of her,” he said.

O’s family defected to North Korea from Germany in 1985 and O escaped from the country a year later, leaving behind his wife and daughters who were imprisoned in the Yodok prison camp in South Hamgyeong Province, until being moved recently. Yodok is notorious for its harsh torture and execution of political prisoners.

Shin was working as a nurse in Germany where she met O and married in the 1970s. Convinced by North Korean agents in Germany who promised stable jobs for O and his wife, the family defected to the North in 1985.

O, who described the decision as “a result of months-long brainwashing” by North Koreans, soon changed his mind and escaped to the South while he was on an overseas mission, having no choice but to leave behind his wife and daughters.

With nearly 40,000 people having signed the petition for the release of Shin and her daughters, the South Korean government has also worked to draw international attention to the issue, officials said.

Believing the issue is unlikely to be solved on the inter-Korean level, Seoul plans to raise the issue during the U.N. General Assembly this fall, according to officials who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Seoul’s new minister on North Korean affairs told a parliamentary session Tuesday that his government “considers Shin’s case as a very important issue” and called on North Korea to halt its inhumane treatment of political prisoners.

By Shin Hae-in (