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Dear North Korea, Bring My Father Home: Interview with Mr. Hwang

In 1969, Korean Air Lines YS-11 was hijacked and taken to North Korea; 50 people were on board. North Korea eventually released 39 of the passengers through the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, but kept 11 people including the aircraft crew, and the rest of the remaining passengers. With the upcoming development and the perceived softening of relations between North and South Korea, can progress be made in the repatriation of those who were kidnapped by the North all those years ago?

Introduction to Mr. Hwang In-cheol

Mr. Hwang In-cheol is the son of Mr. Hwang Won, one of the passengers who was abducted in the 1969 Korean Air hijacking, but who is yet to return home. Mr. Hwang has sworn to fight in order to be reunited with his father once again. This interview highlights the story of Mr. Hwang and his campaign to urge North Korea to let his father come home, and for South Korea to address the issue.

Q1 Can you tell us about the 1969 Korean air hijacking?

This is a photo of my father and me a few days before he boarded the plane. The boy here is 2- year-old me and the man here is my father. In 1969, December 11th, my father boarded the plane for the purpose of a business trip on behalf of a former broadcast director named Baek Gi-Hong. In only 10 minutes after take-off, however, the plane was hijacked by a North Korean sleeper agent. In response to mounting pressure from international condemnation, North Korea promised to return all passengers on February 4th, 1970. Despite this statement, they broke the promise and on February 14th, 1970, 65 days after the hijacking, returned only 39 passengers, detaining 11 individuals (4 crew members and 7 other passengers), including my father.

The Only Photo Left of Mr. Hwang with His Father in 1969/ Teach North Korean Refugees

Q2 Why do you think your father was not released along with the other 39 passengers?

From the 39 individuals who were released, we began to find the reason behind the continued detention of my father. They stated that during indoctrination classes in North Korea, my father refuted their communist theories one by one, which in turn angered the North Korean soldiers to drag him away. When he came back on February 7th, 1970, he sang a song called Ga-go-pa which means “I want to go back home.” That angered the soldiers again and hence he was dragged away again; this was the last time the 39 passengers remember seeing my father.

Q3 What activities or campaigns have you carried out in an attempt to bring your father back home?

Over the many years that have passed, the South Korean government has ceased to address this issue of the 11 remaining individuals. So, I campaigned by myself to raise awareness and address this issue to the Korean people and the government. However, it was difficult to continue campaigning by myself as I also have my own family to take care of. After deciding to continue the campaign for only one more year, I toured the country for the campaign; as a result, I finally started to get recognized for my campaign.

I once met a broker named “Superman,” and surprisingly he told me, “I think I can find out about your father,” claiming to know the whereabouts of my father. So, I tested the information with questions that only my father would know, such as the names of family members. It was through these questions that I could confirm his identity. The broker asked, “what would you like to be done?” I told him, I wished for whatever decision he makes. In the end, he made a decision to return home to South Korea. My father made it all the way to Sinujiu city where he only needed to take a boat; but due to Kim Jong-un’s nuclear test and the heightened security around February, 2013, he could not get on the boat. In response, I went to the Ministry of Unification (MOU) to request help but they refused to help. Overtime, I started to campaign against the inactions of the MOU and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). A secretary finally apologized to me, but what is the point of an apology? An apology cannot be taken seriously as my father is still trapped in North Korea.

I realized I did not have to go ask the MOU but could use the power of the press instead. I got to know about Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), a non-governmental organization that teaches refugees from North Korea. In June 2016, we began the campaign “Bring My Father Home” and went to Imjingak to record a video with volunteers from various countries (you can find the video on Youtube, titled #BringMyFatherHome (2016-06-17 at Imjingak).

Q4 What additional actions, do you think, are needed?

The biggest blame of course falls on North Korea, but also the blame can fall on the inaction of the South Korean government. A plane had been hijacked and was taken to North Korea; what kind of country does not try to help to repatriate their citizens? The citizens pay taxes, and the state is supposed to uphold the safety and security of its citizens. We believe and trust the state, but if the state refuses to do its duty, what kind of nation is this? I believe the inaction to be a major problem as well. Therefore, I have not only been calling on North Korea to let my father be free and allow him to return home, but also calling out to President Moon: “President Moon, just say it, REPATRIATION!”

Q5 Any last words for the Kingos who are interested in the relationship between North and South Korea?

All I want is to be with my father as a family: to be together again. Hasn’t he suffered enough for the past 48 years? I think it is time for him to be with his family again. Everyone longs to be with their family, and so do we. I hope that we can be together again in the current situation, and that we can solve this problem together. It is just a human wish to be with one’s family again.

As for the Kingos, I would like to take the opportunity to tell the story of my father and bring awareness of this story at SKKU. As humans to humans, we can try and find solutions together to solve these issues. I think you can help me bring my father back. I do not think it is difficult; we just need to share ideas together about possible solutions. I think this would be a great help.

Thank you, Mr. Hwang, for sharing the story of your father and your efforts. I hope that the school is able to host you at SKKU, in order for you to give us more insight about this incident and share our ideas together. If there are any Kingos who would like to know more about Mr. Hwang’s efforts to bring his father home, please visit http://bringmyfatherhome.org, for more information.

Kevin Huh  jhuh@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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