01/10/2006, 00.00
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Damages claims from ex detainees of north and south cross over

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

Political parties in the South: "an absurd request, we won't even respond"

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Victims of the inter-Korean ideological clash during the Cold War have accused both Seoul and Pyongyang of abuses.

A group of four South Koreans – kidnapped for 30 years by the Communist regime and only recently returned home via China – yesterday presented a request for compensation to the Pyongyang authorities. The request echoes a petition presented to Seoul by a group of North Koreans – former agents and spies – who were repatriated after spending decades imprisoned in gaols in the south.

The news was released on Friday by Pyongyang's official press agency which said the petition asked for more than one billion US dollars in compensation for "indescribable suffering, persecution and ill treatment" suffered by the former agents during "30 or 40 years behind bars".

The four South Koreans, who came to know about the petition, said they were "indignant" so they presented the same request in exchange. "We were imprisoned, tortured and made to work like slaves for decades after being kidnapped," says the letter presented by the group. The group is calling for 100 million US dollars per head, which should be paid out by Kim Jong-il or else by his Workers' Party.

The South Korean government had arrested and convicted those North Koreans who worked as spies on southern territory and refused to abjure the communist credo. Around 63 of these prisoners were released and repatriated in September, one of the reconciliation moves which followed the inter-Korean summit in June.

"The South Korean government repatriated the long-term prisoners to the North in a humanitarian gesture, but now they are demanding financial compensation,'' said Choi Sung-young, representative of a Seoul civic group working with the families of those abducted to North Korea. Choi said that his organization would seek approval from other families of South Korean abductees in the North to raise the compensation. Currently, a total of 484 South Korean abductees, mostly fishermen, are believed to be held in the North.

The request from the North Koreans led to protests from all political parties in the south. Lee Kye-jin, spokesperson for the Grand National Party (main opposition party) defined the petition as "ridiculous" and added: "If the repatriated prisoners want to talk about human rights, they should have raised their voices about those in the North." Jun Byung-hun, spokesman of the ruling Uri Party, described the accusations as "beyond common sense". "We don't feel the need to pay attention to or comment on this case that is so absurd."

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