Updated Dec.11,2002 20:34 KST

5,000 Prisoners Massacred at Onsong Concentration Camp in 1987

In the worst North Korean concentration camp riot that took place in 1987, over 5,000 or a third of about 15,000 political prisoners were alleged to have been massacred, according to second-hand sources. The massacre took place at the subsequently closed Concentration Camp No. 12 at Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, located near the notorious and largest Hyoeryong Concentration Camp in North Korea, in May 1987 in the course of brutally suppressing the riot, the first of its kind in scale in the country.

Ahn Myong-chol, 33, a North Korean defector in the South who had served as a guard at a nearby concentration camp at the time, made the allegation, quoting platoon and squad leaders who participated in the suppression operation. Another North Korean defector Mun Hyon-il who had long lived in the Onsong district also claimed that he learned about the massacre from the villagers when he visited the site after Onsong Concentration Camp had been shut down.

The riot erupted, when a political prisoner working as a coal miner beat a State Security Agency operative to death in protest against excessive torture. Over 200 inmates who were at the scene also beat to death another SS official and attacked their quarters across a hill. Political prisoners who all but gave up on their lives joined the riot to boost their forces to over 5,000.

When the situation got out of control, Concentration Camp No. 12, reinforced by the guards and equipment of a nearby concentration camp and armed with machine guns, encircled the camp, fired at rioters at random, and eradicated all the 5,000 rioters, according to the sources. With the riot suppressed, rioters' bodies were either burned, or buried in groups in the nearly hills, while those of guards and their families were buried in the nearby Sawol-ri cemetery.

"Hearing firing all day long at the time, I thought a battle broke out at Concentration Camp No. 12," reminisced a North Korean defector who had worked as an intelligence officer at the State Security Agency. "Later I learned that about one third of the rioters were shot to death, and that the concentration camp was subsequently closed down, with the remaining inmates disbursed to a number of other concentration camps."

(Kang Chol-hwan, nkch@chosun.com )