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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 12:18 GMT
Abducted S Korean returns home
Choi Uk-il at Incheon airport, South Korea, on 16 January 2007
Choi Uk-il was greeted by his family as he landed in South Korea
A South Korean fisherman has returned home more than 30 years after he was kidnapped by the Communist North.

Choi Uk-il, 67, arrived from China, where he has been sheltering since fleeing North Korea in December.

South Korea believes 485 of its citizens have been kidnapped by the North since the Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

North Korea insists any South Koreans inside the country defected voluntarily and are not held against their will.

Mr Choi was reunited with his wife, two daughters and a son as he arrived at Incheon airport, west of Seoul.

"I am so glad to be back after 31 years of being kidnapped," he said.

Criticism

Mr Choi was one of 33 South Koreans who were abducted after their fishing boat was seized by a North Korean naval vessel in 1975.

Many of the South Koreans were used to train North Korean spies about life in the South.

Another of the 33 escaped last year, but the rest remain in North Korea, according to South Korean media.

Mr Choi was reportedly helped to flee by a South Korean human rights group and was staying in the Chinese city of Yenji until his return home.

Mr Choi's wife - who was first reunited with him late last year in China - accused the South Korean authorities of initially refusing to help her husband return home.

The South Korean government has faced criticism in recent years for not getting tough with the North over the issue of abductees for fear of jeopardising relations.

Seoul has apologised for its failings in Mr Choi's case. The foreign ministry has said it will do all it can to help other abductees trying to flee North Korea.

The adbuctee issue has become a much bigger issue in Japan, where at least 13 people are believed to have been kidnapped by North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s.




SEE ALSO
S Koreans lost to the North
26 Nov 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Mother's plea for N Korea abductee
12 Apr 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Mystery of Japan abductee deepens
11 Apr 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan wants N Korean spies held
23 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Heartbreak over Japan's missing
09 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
N Korea admits South kidnappings
25 Oct 05 |  Asia-Pacific

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