Former POWs suing N. Korea for forced labor in captivity

SEOUL-- A Seoul court on Tuesday held its first hearing on a damage claim suit filed about four years ago by two former South Korean prisoners of war against North Korea's regime and leader Kim Jong-un.

The former POWs, in their 80s, one of them surnamed Han, launched their unusual lawsuit in October 2016, claiming they had suffered enormous mental and physical damage from forced labor during about 33 months of captivity in the North in the 1950s.

The two men said they fought in the 1950-53 Korean War but were captured by North Korean forces. Instead of being repatriated to the South following the end of the war, they were forced to work for a North Korean government construction unit from September 1953 to June 1956.

The plaintiffs demanded a combined compensation of 22 million won (US$18,840) from the North's government and leader to cover 33 months of their forced labor.

The first court hearing came to pass through the "conveyance by public announcement" system, in which court hearings proceed without the presence of defendants who have no known address or cannot receive legal documents, after a public notice on the court bulletin board or the official gazette.

No one was present at the first hearing on behalf of the defendants.

The plaintiffs said the real purpose of their lawsuit is restoration of their honor.

The Seoul court asked the plaintiffs to clarify several issues, including North Korean leader Kim's debt inheritance ratio, legal ground to prove illegalities of forced labor during captivity, and co-relation between financial compensation from the South Korean government and the amount of compensation demanded in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs said they will ask other former South Korean POWs to offer testimony in the court, if necessary, to prove their damage.

They said they plan to take legal procedures to seize North Korean assets in the South, including copyright fees payable to North Korean broadcasters, if they win the lawsuit.

"We have already been paid financial compensation from the (South Korean) government for our hardships (as POWs)," Han said after the first hearing. "We're not suing the North to make a little money. What we really want is the (North's) acceptance of facts and restoration of our honor."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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