Identified as Kim Sang Geun in a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report released on September 5, the 52-year old man entered North Korea through a third unnamed country in order to escape the hardships of living in South Korea. “He frankly admitted his illegal entry into the DPRK and requested it to let him bring his family in the south so that he might live with them in the DPRK. But an institution concerned of the DPRK persuaded him and decided to send him back to the south,” The KCNA article said.
After confirming Kim’s identity the South Korean authorities agreed to schedule the hand off at Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone at 11am Thursday. A similar scenario in October 2013 saw the repatriation of six South Korean nationals, who according to South Korean media, had also defected believing life in North Korea would be better. However, the group was arrested and forced to spend between 14 and 45 months in concentration camps.
The treatment of the South Korean nationals contrasts with that of the three American citizens currently detained by North Korea. This includes Matthew Miller, who was arrested after attempting to gain asylum in the DPRK. Miller is set to face trial in North Korea on Sunday.
“The North Koreans know that the South Korean government couldn’t possibly ransom one individual South Korean without stirring a domestic nest of worms; it’s a totally different political dynamic. Ergo, they don’t regard South Korean prisoners as bargaining chips.” Christopher Green, editor at Seoul based Daily NK told NK News.
After a health inspection and interrogation on the details of his departure by the South Korean government, it is likely that Kim will be tried for violating the National Security Law. If found guilty the penalty could be up 10 years in prison.
The six South Koreans repatriated in 2013 were also arrested on the spot and indicted.