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(LEAD) Abducted S. Korean crewman returns home after 40 years in North

2013/09/13 15:33

(ATTN: ADDS 5th para, minor edits throughout; REVISES number in last para)

SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- A crew member of a South Korean fishing boat abducted by North Korea 40 years ago has recently returned home after fleeing the communist country, a government official said Friday.

Jeon Wook-pyo, 68, escaped from North Korea early last month and recently returned to South Korea, the official said, adding that "Jeon is now undergoing questioning."

   After the inquiry, Jeon will be allowed to go home to his family here, the official said.

Jeon was among the 25 fishermen aboard the two fishing boats -- the Five Oceans No. 61 and 62 -- that were taken by North Korea on Dec. 28, 1972, while in the Yellow Sea off the country's west coast. The others who were kidnapped have not returned home.

After escaping the North while hiding abroad in an undisclosed third country, Jeon sent a letter to South Korean President Park Geun-hye calling for her help in bringing him back home. In the letter, later released to the press, Jeon said, "I took a chance to escape the North because I had a growing wish to spend the rest of my life with my relatives and brothers at home."

   Abduction is one of many thorny issues between the two Koreas. Those abducted by the North were often used for propaganda activities or for intelligence gathering.

Seoul has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to free the abductees including South Korean soldiers who were taken during the 1950-53 Korean War, but the communist neighbor has denied holding any South Koreans against their will.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean issues, said about 3,000 South Korean soldiers and civilians were confirmed to have been kidnapped by the North during and after the Korean War. The government estimates that nearly 100,000 South Koreans were taken to the North during the civil war.

Jeon Wook-pyo, a South Korean crew member who escaped North Korea after being abducted by the country four decades ago (photo courtesy of the Abductees' Family Union)

pbr@yna.co.kr

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