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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 30 (November 20, 2008)

All Headlines 10:31 November 20, 2008


Pyongyang Reluctant to Soften on Lee Gov't: DLP Legislator

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is unlikely to reverse its recent hostile actions unless the South Korean government assumes full responsibility for the erosion in inter-Korean relations, a South Korean legislator visiting Pyongyang was quoted as saying on Nov. 19.

Twenty lawmakers from Seoul's Democratic Labor Party (DLP) made a five-day visit to the North Korean capital from Nov. 15, with hopes of mediating a repair in frayed relations between the two Koreas. The delegation returned to Seoul later Nov. 19.

The visit came shortly after the communist North threatened to restrict passage across the countries' shared border, further straining already tense relations.

The minority party was carrying a request by South Korea's Vice Unification Minister, Hong Yang-ho, who asked the DLP chairman to tell North Korea that Seoul has not "completely turned away" from deals struck under Seoul's previous liberal governments. The message is seen as an apparent effort to mend ties.

"North Korea remains very tough toward the Lee Myung-bak administration," said DLP vice spokesman Bu Sung-hyun, quoting Rep. Park Sung-hup after their phone conversation earlier on Nov. 19. Park was among the 20-member delegation. "North Korea made clear it has no intention to make necessary moves (to improve ties) until the Lee government changes its stance," he added.

Relations between Seoul and Pyongyang have been strained since the conservative Lee Myung-bak took office in late February.

Taking a tougher position on the nuclear-armed state than his predecessors, President Lee has made clear on several occasions that his government will not expand inter-Korean cooperation projects until North Korea abandons all of its nuclear ambitions.

In its latest hostile move against the Lee government, Pyongyang announced last Nov. 12 that it will partially close the inter-Korean border, which could effectively suspend operations at a joint industrial complex on the outskirts of the North Korean town of Kaesong.

The joint industrial site is seen as the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation efforts after tours to North Korea's Mt. Kumgang were suspended in July following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist there.

Among other things, Pyongyang criticizes the Lee government for refusing to carry out the two major inter-Korean deals struck under Seoul's former administrations. The two stalled accords, struck in 2000 and 2007, call for expanded economic cooperation and reunion opportunities for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. "Active discussions were held on implementation of the two joint agreements," the DLP spokesperson said.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency also reported earlier that Seoul's DLP and North Korea's Social Democratic Party, which invited its counterpart to Pyongyang, held "productive discussions" on the two stalled deals.

Leaders of the two parties signed a joint statement calling for their immediate implementation after the discussion.

Established in 2002, the DLP, controlling five seats in the 299-member unicameral house, is considered the most pro-Pyongyang among South Korean political parties. Its representatives have visited the North Korean capital on two other occasions.


S. Korea Marks Gloomy 10th Anniversary of Mt. Kumgang Tour

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Marking the 10th anniversary of the launch of tourism at Mt. Kumgang, South Korea expressed hopes for the resumption of cross-border tours to the resort on North Korea's eastern coast, which have been suspended for months.

A decade ago on Nov. 18, a ferry carrying South Korean tourists set historic sail toward the mountain as a token of burgeoning inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation. But the tours have been idled for months following the July 11, 2008 death of a South Korean housewife, who was shot by a North Korean soldier, renewing tensions on the divided peninsula.

South Korean officials, however, said the two Koreas' joint venture could be revived any time through consultations. "If South and North Korea meet and have consultations, it will certainly produce a resolution that can be accepted by both sides, thus opening the way for the resumption of the tours to Mt. Kumgang," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.

But the problem is North Korea keeps balking at any government-level talks with the South, he added, although periodic civilian and political exchanges continue.

North Korea claims the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in the South is to blame for the icy inter-Korean ties after a decade of rapprochement under its liberal predecessors. The Lee administration favors reciprocity in economic cooperation with the North.

North Korean authorities also take issue with South Korean activists sending anti-North Korean leaflets across the border, and have threatened to retaliate by expelling South Korean workers from the joint industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong.

The North's military announced last week that it will strictly control border crossings starting from Dec. 1, possibly putting in jeopardy the Kaesong enterprise and South Koreans' daily sightseeing of the ancient city, the only remaining regular inter-Korean tour.

The government is working on countermeasures against the spreading of leaflets. "We are reviewing various ways to control it," Kim said. "We are looking for a legal ground." He gave no more details. He said the North has not responded yet to the South's latest olive branch.

In a fax message sent by the Defense Ministry on Nov. 13, the South proposed talks with the North on providing materials and equipment necessary to improve military communications.

Despite various difficulties in the tourism project, more than 1.9 million South Koreans have toured the resort as of June this year.

With the suspension of the tourism project, Hyundai Asan, the operator of the tourism project, and other private enterprises registered 100 billion won (US$143 million) in losses.

The Seoul government recently softened its stance on the resumption of the Mt. Kumgang tourism by allowing four South Korean civilians to visit the area on Nov. 18 to deliver 50,000 briquettes to North Koreans in a nearby village.

Over the past 10 years, a total of 23 people have lost their lives in various accidents at the Mt Kumgang resort. Of those killed, 22 were South Korean tourists, and one was a North Korean soldier.

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