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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 12:42 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

South Korean PoWs escape after 45 years

The tense border between north and south

Two South Korean soldiers captured during the Korean War have escaped and returned home after nearly five decades in captivity.

Kim Sang Oo, Committee on National Unification: Forced labour was close to slavery
Kim Bok-ki, 67, and Park Dong-il, 71, were taken prisoner during a battle in the communist north in 1953 and were presumed dead.

The soldiers were sent to work in coal mines, but recently fled via an unnamed third country.

[ image:  ]
They arrived home with Mr Kim's son, Young-gu, 31, and Mr Park's daughter, Jung-shim, 30, who are believed to be married.

The soldiers had been classified dead by South Korea's Defence Ministry.

An official at the National Security Planning agency said the two prisoners of war had returned to South Korea "through a third country".

The term "third country" is generally taken to indicate China which shares a land border with North Korea.

But Beijing has an agreement with North Korea to repatriate any of its citizens and is keen not to be identified in any defections.

'More than 130 PoWs still captive'

Seoul Correspondent Andrew Wood: "Taken prisoner in 1953"
A number of other PoWs have recently escaped and say others are still languishing in the isolated Stalinist state 50 years after their capture.

South Korea said last month that more than 130 prisoners were still in captivity across the border.

The two Koreas remain technically at war as the conflict only ended with the signing of an armistice rather than a permanent peace treaty.

Estimates vary for the number of South Koreans taken prisoner in the war.

South Korea's military says at least 28,000 troops were captured but North Korea says it only detained about 7,000 who were handed back.

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