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(LEAD) Political bickering feared to cast doubt on human rights bill on N. Korea

All Headlines 17:39 June 10, 2011

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with stance of opposition party; CHANGES headline)
By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- Rival political parties disagreed Friday on a legislative procedure over a bill designed to help improve North Korea's dismal human rights condition.

The latest dispute could set the stage for a political confrontation, casting doubt on the parliamentary endorsement of the bill this month.

The bill, sponsored by the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), calls for, among other things, assistance to improve the human rights record and humanitarian aid to North Koreans. It has been gathering dust in the parliamentary judiciary committee since last year.

But the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) recently said it will submit a separate bill that primarily focuses on humanitarian aid to the North. Details of the proposed bill were not immediately available.

The opposition party has been reluctant to take any steps to anger North Korea over its alleged violation of human rights and wants to resume reconciliation efforts with the North.

North Korea has long been accused of human rights abuses, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners to public executions and torture. Pyongyang denies the accusations, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

The rival parties agreed last month to review the two bills or hold a debate by making an alternative proposal, if the opposition party submits its bill to the judiciary committee.

Still, the government and the GNP agreed earlier Friday to handle the two bills separately this month, prompting strong opposition from the DP.

The GNP said it will try to pass its bill through the National Assembly this month if progress is not made in seeking cooperation with the DP.

Noh Young-min, a DP deputy floor leader, dismissed the agreement between the government and the GNP as nonsense.

Also Friday, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam called for the passage of the GNP-sponsored bill.

There are some concerns that the GNP-sponsored bill could further sour inter-Korean relations, which plunged to their lowest level in decades following the North's two deadly attacks on the South last year.

The South blames North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March of last year, but the North still adamantly denies its involvement. The North also shelled a frontline South Korean island in November, killing two soldiers and two civilians.

The United States passed legislation in 2004 to help North Korean defectors settle in the U.S. and promote democracy in the reclusive communist country.

Japan has also passed a law on providing support to North Korean defectors and slapping sanctions on North Korea unless it makes progress in resolving the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.
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