Sixty years after the armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War, there could be as many as 500 South Korean soldiers held captive by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Seoul, incredibly, is doing little to obtain their release.
There were some 80,000 unaccounted South Korean combatants when the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. Pyongyang returned only 8,300 of them, however, in the prisoner exchange. The fate of the missing was of little interest to the South Korean public until 1994, when the first prisoner of war escaped to the South. Even then, the issue was not considered important to a nation determined to establish good relations with the horrific North Korea. Kim Dae Jung, the dissident-turned-president of South Korea, did not even mention the plight of the prisoners of war during his historic summit in 2000 in Pyongyang with Kim Jong Il.
In 2007, the administration of Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae Jung’s immediate successor, talked to the North Koreans about the POWs, and Roh’s successor, Lee Myung-bak, did the same. The last time both Koreas discussed the prisoners was February 2011, toward the end of Lee’s term.