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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 22)

All News 06:59 June 22, 2017

10 potential Warmbiers
-Now is time to act for detainees in North Korea-

The tragic death of an American college student, Otto Warmbier, six days after one-and-a-half years detention in North Korea, should be taken as an unavoidable call to prevent the same fate from befalling 10 remaining hostages in that gulag nation.

U.S. President Donald Trump was right to be indignant about Warmbier's death.

President Moon Jae-in deplored the hostage takers' inhumane actions after Warmbier never regained consciousness after being transferred home in a comatose state. But, compared with the effort made by Washington to release their citizens taken hostage by Pyongyang, the Seoul government has paid shamefully scant attention to their nationals in distress.

Out of 10 remaining in detention in the North, six are Koreans, three Korean Americans and one Canadian. The six are three missionaries _ Kim Jung-wook, Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil _ and Ko Hyon-cheol and two other North Korean defectors who are South Korean.

The same as President Moon, the Foreign Ministry called for the release of the six; but this looked like a footnote to the official lamentation about the Warmbier death, also being short of an outright condemnation.

There is little evidence to back the government's claim of making ceaseless effort to secure the release of the six. Above all, it doesn't know whether they are still alive or not. It had raised the issue over the hostages four times during inter-Korean official contacts and proposed a meeting but nothing has materialized so far. A related request was made during a U.S. delegation's visit to Seoul in February with little result.

If the hostages are still alive, they must be under extreme duress. Kim Jung-wook, the longest detainee, was taken in October 2013 for espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment. In March 2015, he and the two missionaries were forced to make public admissions to concocted charges as part of the North's propaganda campaign. Ko, the defector, was arrested for what Pyongyang claimed was involvement in child abduction.

The life of detainees is horrific to say the least. Kenneth Bae, a Korean American who was released in 2014 after two years in detention, said that for six days a week, 10 hours a day, he was forced to do hard labor. He lost 20 kilograms and was hospitalized when he got ill. Robert Park, another Korean American, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and was sent to hospital after being detained for 43 days. Laura Ling talked about her confinement in a cell 150cm wide and 180 cm long during her five months in detention.

Considering reports that Americans are often treated better than other nationals for negotiating value with the U.S., the other hostages must be in indescribable plight.

If Warmbier's death could be put to a better use, it would need a joint effort by all involved nations and the international community to get the North to reveal their condition and release them immediately. If the Moon government wants to shift to dialogue with the North, solving the issue of detainees would be the best way to persuade pessimistic detractors.

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