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(LEAD) N. Korean leadership to blame for icy cross-border ties: minister

All Headlines 11:50 July 08, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with separate speech in paras 6-8)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL/INCHEON, July 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's point man on North Korea blamed the communist state's leadership Thursday for the divided sides' soured relations, accusing it of incompetency on both diplomatic and domestic fronts.

In a meeting with business executives in the western port city of Incheon, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek argued that North Korea has no one to blame but itself for its isolation, urging Pyongyang to open up to the wider world.

"North Korea says this (frozen inter-Korean relationship) happened because of our hard-line policy," Hyun said in a speech. "But our North Korea policy is one based on engagement and embracement."

Hyun said that "three major mistakes" by the North led to the current situation: cold-shouldering the South's offer to help rebuild the North's economy, taking a hard-line approach on the new U.S. government and failing to understand its own economic state.

Hyun, who came short of singling out North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said the failed currency reform that the North implemented last year attests to Pyongyang's inability to feed its people.

In a separate speech in Ansan, south of Seoul, Hyun said the increasing number of North Koreans fleeing their homeland is a case in point that shows the North's problems.

"It teaches us what we should prepare for the future," he said without elaboration as he spoke at a ceremony marking the 11th anniversary of the opening of Hanawon, a training facility for North Korean defectors. The speech was released by the ministry.

More than 19,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce. Ministry officials expect the number to top 20,000 later this year.

The relations between the Koreas have worsened since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a pledge to get tougher on the North's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea argues it is developing nuclear arms to deter U.S. aggression, calling Lee a traitor conspiring with the U.S. to topple its regime. Tension also runs high along the inter-Korean border after North Korea threatened war for punishment over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The North denies any role in the incident that claimed 46 lives, while the South is pushing a series of measures to hurt the North diplomatically and economically as retaliation.


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