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All Headlines 10:34 June 25, 2009


Inter-Korean Trade on the Decline: Customs Office

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade between the divided Koreas has fallen for the ninth straight month year-on-year, the customs office here said on June 21, as cross-border economic exchanges are threatened by boiling tension on the Korean Peninsula.

According to the Korea Customs Service in Seoul, the volume of trade between the Koreas reached US$106.5 million in May, a fall of 38 percent from $171.9 million in the same month last year.

The May figure represented the ninth consecutive monthly on-year decrease in inter-Korean trade since September last year.

The decline reflected a downturn in inter-Korean ties that have soured since President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year with a pledge to link the denuclearization of North Korea to North-bound aid shipments.

Calling Lee "a traitor," Pyongyang has threatened armed conflicts along the border and imposed stricter regulations on South Koreans working at a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The complex is one of the last remaining symbols of inter-Korean reconciliation that grew out of the 2000 summit between the Koreas, which still remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

A South Korean company has recently pulled out of the borderline factory park, while a South Korean worker has been held by North Korea on charges of defaming its leadership since March.

Further raising tension, North Korea fired a series of long- and short-range missiles this year and conducted its second nuclear test in late May.

The provocative moves have prompted the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution tightening sanctions on the isolated communist regime.


Seoul's Opposition Leader Says Ready to Send Special Envoy to N.K.

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's opposition leader said on June 22 he is willing to send a special envoy to North Korea to help the two Koreas resume dialogue over denuclearization and repair frayed relations.

Chung Sye-kyun, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to give up nuclear weapons and military adventurism and to return to dialogue with South Korea and the international community. He also pressed for the release of a South Korean worker and two U.S. journalists long detained in North Korea.

In a press conference held at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club, Chung called on U.S. President Barack Obama to resume government-level dialogue with Pyongyang and pursue a comprehensive package deal for pending North Korea issues, including a coordinated international effort to force the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

"The Democratic Party is ready to open talks with the administration of President Lee Myung-bak on sending a special partisan delegation to North Korea," said Chung.

"President Lee is required to send a special envoy with expertise on inter-Korean relations in order to seek a package deal with North Korea, including the resumption of inter-Korean talks," Chung said, calling on Lee to halt his hard-line policy towards the North.

Tension on the Korean Peninsula has escalated since the North defiantly conducted its second nuclear test on May 25 and test-fired long- and short-range missiles.

At a June 16 summit in Washington, Lee and Obama agreed in writing to extend the U.S. nuclear umbrella over the Korean Peninsula, with Obama pledging to "pursue denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula vigorously."

The two leaders also agreed to break from the pattern of awarding concessions to North Korea for its provocations, prompting a warning from the communist North of an armed clash on the Korean Peninsula.

The U.N. Security Council recently agreed on financial and diplomatic sanctions against Pyongyang for its second nuclear test in defiance of a U.N. resolution imposed after its first test in 2006.

"As far as the North Korea nuclear problem is concerned, the South Korea-U.S. summit simply emphasized sanctions on the North, failing to produce any agreement on a peaceful settlement. Lee's proposal for five-party talks on North Korea was unrealistic. The written agreement on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for South Korea is also feared to trigger proliferation in Northeast Asia," said the DP leader.

During their summit, Lee and Obama reportedly agreed on the concept of holding five-party talks that exclude North Korea from the current six-party format. The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have stalled due to a dispute over how to verify North Korea's accounting of its nuclear assets.

"More specifically, (the U.S. package deal for North Korea) should be a big and bold deal that includes improvement of bilateral relations and assistance to the North by the international community," Chung said.

The U.S., along with the other members of the six-party talks, has in the past considered providing Pyongyang with a package of security guarantees, economic aid and support for diplomatic normalization in return for suspension of its nuclear weapons and long-range missile development.

"Clearly, the heart of a comprehensive solution to the North Korean nuclear issue lies in the improvement of U.S.-North relations ... It is unrealistic to expect that stronger sanctions alone will resolve the current problem," said the opposition leader.

"The U.S. must take the lead in coming up with creative solutions that can achieve North Korean denuclearization without aggravating the security situation on the Korean Peninsula."


S. Korea's Aid to N. Korea Plunges 60 Percent This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government and private assistance for North Korea has plummeted 60 percent this year amid rising cross-border tension stemming from the North's nuclear and missile threats, officials said June 24.

State and private support to North Korea during the January-May period stood at US$15.18 million, down 60 percent on-year from $26.33 million, according to the Unification Ministry.

The steep downturn comes in the wake of North Korea's second nuclear test in May and multiple rocket launches. The United Nations Security Council condemned the test and passed a resolution to impose financial and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang.

Last month's provision of aid from the South to the North tumbled 85.1 percent on-year, from $8.36 million down to $1.24 million, according to the ministry.

The decline reflects inter-Korean ties that have soured since President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year with a pledge to link the denuclearization of North Korea to North-bound aid shipments.

North Korea has detained a South Korean employee at Hyundai Asan Corp., identified only by his family name of Yu, since March 30, accusing him of "slandering" the North's political system. The fate of the worker is still unclear.

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