Govt urged to press Pyongyang on 'missing' abductee

Govt urged to press Pyongyang on 'missing' abductee

In this photo taken a year ago, Anocha's brother Banjong holds one of the photos that prove the Thai woman was abducted and held in North Korea. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
In this photo taken a year ago, Anocha's brother Banjong holds one of the photos that prove the Thai woman was abducted and held in North Korea. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

Thailand needs to be persistent in demanding the return of a Thai national abducted by North Korean agents more than 30 years ago, human rights advocates have told an international forum.

Thai political leaders need to be more assertive with Pyongyang regarding the abduction of Anocha Panchoi, a Chiang Mai native kidnapped in Macau in 1978, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

Thailand has a policy of raising the issue but needs to do more, Mr Robertson argued. Officials need to stress the matter at their meetings with their North Korean counterparts.

"The problem is the government is still willing to take 'no' for an answer," he said at the "North Korea's Abductions: Voices from Thailand, Japan and South Korea" symposium held in Bangkok last week.

North Korea has always denied holding Ms Anocha as well as thousands other foreign abductees, despite evidence of their capture.

In May 1978, the 23 year-old Anocha -- then working as a massage therapist in Macau -- disappeared on her way to a local beauty parlour. Her family had resigned themselves to her probable death, says Banjong Panchoi, Ms Anocha's nephew.

"We thought she was the victim of some accident or murder and that her body was never found."

The family had no information about her whereabouts until 2005, when they spotted her photograph in a television report.

The news segment showed Charles Jenkins, an American defector to North Korea, holding a picture of Ms Anocha.

While her family was stunned and found the story hard to believe at first, they immediately contacted Thai authorities, demanding they intervene in Ms Anocha's case.

However, no progress has been made after 11 years, her nephew says.

On Thursday, Mr Banjong, along with the families of Japanese and South Korean abductees, and human rights activists gathered in Bangkok to renew their pleas to their governments and the international community.

"We need to raise awareness and keep up pressure on governments," said Tomoharu Ebihara, a Chiang Mai-based researcher and director of the Association for the Rescue of North Korea Abductees.

Officials are doing everything possible through diplomatic means to investigate Ms Anocha's abduction and seek her return, says Cherdchai Chaivaivid, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of East Asian Affairs.

In 2005, following reports that Ms Anocha was being held in Pyongyang, the government asked the North Korean regime for cooperation in its probe.

Relations between both governments became tense as a result and no progress was achieved.

In 2014, after it obtained more information on the case, the MFA addressed the issue bluntly with North Korean officials, who promised to carry out a local investigation, Mr Cherdchai said.

"However, I cannot tell you how diligent or rigorous this probe actually is," he added. With North Korea being a closed country, Thai authorities encountered obstacles to their investigation.

Also in 2014, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea documented a state policy of abducting foreign nationals during the Korean War and also in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abductees would commonly serve as instructors for spies or be married off to other foreign detainees. There are believed to be over 80,000 foreign abductees in North Korea. While most victims are South Korean or Japanese, Lebanese, French and Italian nationals were also targeted.

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