SEOUL (AFP) -Stalinist North Korea is demanding billions of dollars in compensation for alleged atrocities against its prisoners of war and spies formerly held in South Korea, a demand which has sparked outrage among politicians in Seoul.
There was no official response from the government to the unprecedented demand. But the main opposition party Sunday highlighted the North’s own rights record, which often comes in for strong international criticism.
The formal damages complaint was filed to the South’s human rights commission through a border office Friday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
The complaint insisted Seoul compensate former North Korean long-term prisoners for their time in “nightmarish prisons” run by former authoritarian governments in the South.
“The physical damage, except mental damage done to them, stands at one billion US dollars even according to a preliminary estimate made by specialists of the DPRK (North Korea) in line with international practice,” the agency said on Saturday.
“It would come to several billions of US dollars … if the damage done to all those unconverted long-term prisoners killed in prisons is put together.”
But the North Korean demand backfired across the border.
The ruling Uri Party, which usually takes a conciliatory line with North Korea, denounced the complaint as “totally against common sense”.
The main opposition Grand National Party called it “ridiculous”.
“They should first raise voices for improving human rights conditions in North Korea when they like to talk about human rights,” the opposition party said in a statement.
A senior unification ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity that “the North Korean complaint is not worth being given any serious consideration.”
South Korea repatriated 63 North Korean long-term prisoners, mostly prisoners of war or spies who refused to abjure communism, in 2000 after a reconciliation summit with North Korea.
Most prisoners from both sides were exchanged soon after the 1950-1953 conflict. But some North Koreans left behind in the South were captured in the post-war period and jailed. Others were arrested for spying.
Citing the repatriated prisoners, the North said they had undergone atrocities, including torture and solitary confinement in 2.5 square-meter (28 square feet) cells, for refusing to renounce their ideology.
“The unconverted long-term prisoners reserve the right to punish the assailants and demand they make apology and compensation for the mental and material losses they suffered as miserable sufferers and victims,” it said.
The North has given no meaningful response to the South’s repeated demands to repatriate hundreds of South Korean prisoners of war and civilians held in the communist state.
More than 540 South Korean prisoners of war are still held in the North, according to the defense ministry in Seoul. Another 500 or more South Korean abductees are also said to be held in the North.
A United Nations resolution in November expressed concern about what it called torture, public executions, the imposition of the death penalty for political reasons and the extensive use of forced labour in North Korea.