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[Newsmaker] North Korean boat spills over to political arena

Main opposition calls for parliamentary probe in a turnabout from 2012

Controversy over a North Korean boat has spread to the political arena, with the main opposition turning up the heat on President Moon Jae-in.

Controversy began earlier this month when it was revealed that the military had announced inaccurate information about four North Koreans who arrived in the South on June 15.

In revealing the information, government agencies initially stated that the wooden boat carrying four North Koreans was detected near Samcheok port in Gangwon Province. 

Main opposition Liberty Korea Party lawmakers and officials, including Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn (fourth from right) and floor leader Rep. Na Kyung-won, hold a rally in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Main opposition Liberty Korea Party lawmakers and officials, including Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn (fourth from right) and floor leader Rep. Na Kyung-won, hold a rally in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)

The military also said the boat had been undetected until then because of high waves and because it was drifting without power. However, it was later revealed that the North Koreans’ arrival was first reported by a civilian and that the boat was moored against a seawall, rather than being at sea in waters near the port.

In addition, it was revealed that the North Koreans on the boat had repaired the engine on the final day of their time at sea and sailed into rather than drifted into the South Korean port.

The North Koreans also reportedly spoke with the South Korean civilians and asked to use mobile phones. The civilians reportedly called the police, prompting the Coast Guard to dispatch officers to the location.

Two of the North Koreans have since been repatriated, while two have chosen to remain in the South.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party continued to raise the heat Monday, with Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn leading the move in Seoul, while Floor Leader Rep. Na Kyung-won renewed criticism from Samcheok, Gangwon Province, where the boat had docked.

The main opposition has also taken the opportunity to attack the inter-Korean military agreement signed during the Sept. 19 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. The agreement outlines measures to ease military tension along the border.

“The Moon Jae-in administration dismantled the military’s discipline. South Korea’s national security has been dismantled since the September 19 inter-Korean military agreement,” Hwang wrote on his social media account on Monday.

He called on Moon to make a public apology and to remove the defense minister and National Security Office chief.

“Immediately nullify the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement that destroyed the military’s discipline and national security. (I will) fight false peace and the ineffectual concept of national security.”

Hwang continued his attack at the party’s supreme council meeting, saying the state of the country’s defense was effectively “dismantled.”

Na, who claimed Sunday that Moon had broken the Military Criminal Act, stated that the party would seek a parliamentary investigation into the issue, raising further doubts and accusing the government of a “complete cover-up.”

“It has been revealed that everything has been hidden and manipulated, revealing that (the situation) has gone beyond a complete breakdown of national security,” Na said, speaking to reporters after a meeting with Coast Guard officers dispatched on June 15.

“The Liberty Korea Party’s inspection team will push for a parliamentary investigation.”

Na went on to claim that the appearance of the boat and the North Koreans aboard made it clear they had intended to arrive in the South. According to the Coast Guard officers who were dispatched to meet the North Koreans, the deck of the boat was clean and the four North Koreans did not appear unkempt, as would be expected of people who had been at sea for several days.

According to the officers, the North Koreans said they had left port on June 5 and the engine failed June 10. The boat is then said to have drifted until June 13, when the sailors repaired the engine and proceeded to sail to the nearest shore.

The officers also told Na they found a fishing net but no fish on the boat. The officers said they did not find water or heating devices onboard, and that nothing of note other than a GPS device had been found.

In revealing the related developments, the Ministry of National Defense said the North Koreans had crossed the maritime border after drifting for several days after their engine broke down.

As for her earlier claims about Moon violating the Military Criminal Act, Na said the party is still deliberating whether to file a criminal complaint against the president.

Speaking at a rally Sunday, Na said the president and others involved in the situation may have broken the Military Criminal Act, which states that those giving orders or relaying false information concerning the military may be prosecuted.

While Cheong Wa Dae denies any wrongdoing, the apparent gap in the military’s readiness appears to have affected Moon’s approval ratings.

According to a survey conducted by Realmeter, Moon’s approval rating came to 46.7 percent last week, down 2.8 percentage points from the previous week.

Over the same period, the proportion of respondents negatively assessing Moon’s performance rose 2.9 percentage points to 48.3 percent.

By Choi He-suk (