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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 12:52 GMT
S Korea POW celebrates escape
Jun Yong-il saluting
Jun Yong-il reportedly swam to safety
A South Korean former prisoner of war, who returned home last month after escaping 50 years of captivity in North Korea, has been feted in an emotional ceremony.

Seventy-two-year-old Jun Yong-il wiped a tear from his eye as he snapped a salute to former comrades and bellowed his unit's battle cry: Victory!

Commander of the Blue Star 6th Army Division, Major-General Heo Pyong-hwan, said Sergeant Jun's will to survive half a century in the North, and to finally escape, "exemplifies the true spirit of a soldier".

I'm glad to be home
Jun Yong-il
Sergeant Jun reportedly swam across the North's river border in China last June, where he was arrested by Chinese police and eventually allowed to fly home on 24 December.

He was a private first class when he was captured, but was promoted to staff sergeant before being formally discharged from the army on Monday.

He rode in the back of a jeep, reviewing troops in formation, including 12 veterans from his unit.

"I thought all my platoon members were dead except me," said former platoon leader Lieutenant Lee Bo-young.

"I can hardly imagine what hardship you must have gone through in North Korea."

Sergeant Jun was tight-lipped about his experiences in the North, where he was held in a prisoner of war camp before working in a mine and several factories.

"I'm glad to be home, to return to my country, my hometown and my old unit," he said.

After the ceremony he left for his hometown of Youngchong, where his 80-year-old sister Jun Young-mok said she planned to "feed him well".



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