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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 269 (July 4, 2013)

All Headlines 10:38 July 04, 2013

*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

South Korea Urges North Korea to Free Korean War Abductees

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on June 28 urged North Korea to free South Koreans believed to have been abducted by the North during and after the 1950-1953 Korean War.

"North Korea should be cooperative with our efforts to overcome the tragic history," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a commemoration event held in Seoul by the families of South Korean abductees, marking the June 25 outbreak of the civil war.

The North should not turn a blind eye to the abductee issue, Ryoo said, adding that the government will make steady efforts to verify the fates of South Koreans believed to have been kidnapped by the North, and to bring them back home.

The government has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to free the abductees, but North Korea has never admitted to the existence of the abductees, claiming that they were defectors. The government estimates that about 100,000 South Koreans have been kidnapped by the North since the outbreak of the fratricidal war

"Resolving the issue of Korean War abductees and victims is an important task for the government as well as for the inter-Korean policy," the minister said. Ryoo was the first unification minister who has attended the annual gathering, which kicked off in 2010.

Meanwhile, the national commission on Korean War abductees decided to add 274 more people, including the vice chief of the Korean Provisional Government during the Japanese colonial era, to its official list of abductees by North Korea during the 1950-35 Korean War.

During the ninth meeting of the commission, the government confirmed that 274 more Koreans were kidnapped by the North, bringing the total number of the victims officially tallied by the government to 2,265.

It was discovered that most of the newly recognized figures were abducted from their residences and forced to cross to the North by the (North) Korea People's Army in 1950, the commission said.

While about half of them were farmers and fishermen, the new list also includes high-profile figures such as Kim Kyu-sik, former vice president of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai in the 1940s, lawmaker Shin Yong-hoon, and former Gyeonggi Governor Gu Ja-ok.

The total 2,265 victims range from politicians to soldiers to students, with farmers and fishermen accounting for the largest share of 40.7 percent, followed by businessmen with 14 percent, civil servants with 8.4 percent and students with 7.8 percent, according to government data.

"I'd like to express my words of consolation to those families who have been in agony for the past 60 years after the war ended in a cease-fire, not knowing whether their family members were dead or alive," Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said presiding over the meeting.

"The government will make every effort to support the commission's fact-finding missions and make endeavors help people who were forcibly taken by North Korea to regain their reputation," Chung added.

The commission was established in 2010 to uncover the truth about the abduction issues, help recover the reputations of their families, and to achieve national unity. Under law, the commission will continue to serve in its role until 2017.

The government plans to conduct an investigation to discover the actual abductees across the country from the latter half of this year, an indication that the government will put more emphasis on resolving the abductee issue.

The commission has reviewed the reports submitted by the families of abducted people but it will dig into the truth of abductions even without requests by the families. Since the commission was launched, only 3,000 cases of abduction have been reported, although the government estimates some 100,000 South Koreans were taken to the North against their will.

North Korea on June 28 condemned South Korea's efforts to track war abductees, saying Seoul is trying to disguise voluntary defectors as victims of abduction.

"(Seoul has turned) patriotic figures who went to the North in search of justice and truth (into war abductees,)" the North said in a report carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The North was referring to the South Korean national commission's recent decision to recognize 274 missing South Koreans as abductees, including Kim Kyu-sik, former vice president of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai in the 1940s.

Kim voluntarily crossed the border to the North, the KCNA report said, adding that the commission's decision constitutes an attempt to stir accusations of human rights violations across the country.

In a symbolic gesture of humanitarianism and friendship to China, a battlefield foe six decades ago, South Korean President Park Geun-hye offered on June 29 to return hundreds of sets of remains of Chinese troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Park made the offer during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong at Beijing's Tsinghua University right before delivering a speech at the alma mater of Chinese President Xi Jinping, presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing told reporters.

Kim made the announcement in the ancient city of Xian, the second leg of Park's four-day state visit to China, which started on June 27 with the South Korean-Chinese summit talks in Beijing.

"This year marks the 60th anniversary of the (Korean War) armistice," Park was quoted by the spokeswoman as saying. "There are 360 sets of remains of Chinese soldiers in South Korea. The South Korean government has taken good care of them, but the bereaved families in China must be waiting for their return, and we would like to repatriate the remains."

Liu expressed gratitude, saying the offer conveys Park's intention of friendship toward China well, according to the spokeswoman.

"The families are waiting for them. I will immediately report this to President Xi Jinping," the spokeswoman quoted Liu as telling Park.

During the Korean War, China fought alongside North Korea against the U.S.-backed Allied Forces. History records show that more than 1 million Chinese soldiers were killed in the three-year war.

Since 1981, a total of 403 sets of remains of Chinese troops have been unearthed in South Korea, with 43 sets already repatriated via the U.N. Military Armistice Commission that supervises the cease-fire.

The remaining 360 sets are buried at a cemetery in Paju, north of Seoul.

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S. Korea Bans Private Group from Meeting N. Koreans in Beijing

SEOUL (Yonhap) - A private group dedicated to implementing agreements reached at the 2007 inter-Korean summit has been banned by the government on July 2 from meeting their North Korean counterparts later this week in China.

The meeting, set up by the South Korean Committee for the Joint Implementation of the June 15 Summit Declaration, would have taken place in Beijing during two days starting July 4.

The group said it wanted to touch on such issues as the normalization of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, arranging joint events and to touch on various outstanding concerns that have hindered dialogue over the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

The committee said the meeting would have helped facilitate other private sector cooperation that could ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

"We have determined that the talks planned are political in nature and are unsuited to be handled by private groups," an official at the Ministry of Unification said, asking for anonymity.

He said that a notification has been sent calling on the group to abstain from holding the meeting in the Chinese capital. The South Korean committee had asked for prior permission to hold the meeting.

Under South Korean law all pre-arranged contact with North Koreans and groups must be approved in advance.

The official stressed that the agenda put forth by the private groups from both sides are matters that need to be discussed at government-to-government talks.

He pointed out that while the senior officials meeting that was planned for June fell through at the last minute, Seoul is keeping its door fully open to dialogue.

The ministry official, meanwhile, said that while some have criticized the government for preventing private sector meetings, such claims are untrue.

"Seoul maintains the position that it will allow all humanitarian exchanges and aid," he argued, adding that Seoul judges all aid proposals based on their urgency, effect on the North Korean population and materials being sent.

The insider, moreover, said that at this juncture Seoul needs to look at the wider picture taking place on the diplomatic front.

On the possibility that North Korea's women's national football team will be invited to the 2013 East Asian Football Federation Women's East Asian Cup event, which kicks off in Seoul on July 20, the official said Seoul is approaching the matter in a flexible manner.

He pointed out that the football tournament is an international gathering and is a non-political sporting event, hinting the government may allow North Korean athletes to enter the country.

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N.K. Says It Will Permit S. Korean Entrepreneurs to Visit Kaesong Complex

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on July 3 it will allow South Korean businessmen to visit their plants in a suspended joint industrial complex in its territory, a move that may help open dialogue between the two divided Korean states.

The joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong remains closed since early April when North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers hired by 123 South Korean plants there, citing U.S.-involved military exercises in the South.

South Korea subsequently pulled out all of its manpower there, bringing the most significant inter-Korean economic project to a juddering halt.

"(The North) has decided to allow South Korean businessmen to visit the Kaesong complex so that they can take emergency steps against possible damages of facilities and materials there during the rainy season," said a North Korean message conveyed to South Korea through the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom at 5 p.m. (Seoul time).

South Korea's Unification Ministry said the message was addressed to the organization representing companies with plants in Kaesong and a group of Southern officials who worked there to support them.

In the message, North Korea said it will take necessary steps, including cross-border passages and communications, if and when it is notified of a date for their visit, the ministry said.

South Korea will review the North's proposal and express its response as early as July 4, it said.

The North's message was sent through a phone line reopened by North Korea shortly beforehand, according to ministry officials. After the industrial complex was closed, North Korea had cut off all cross-border communication lines with the South.

The latest North Korean move comes after a group of South Korean companies with plants in Kaesong said they would relocate their production facilities to South Korea or third countries unless prompt actions are taken to reopen the complex.

The industrial complex, a symbol of cross-border rapprochement stemming from the historic 2000 inter-Korean summit, opened in late 2004, combining South Korean capital and technology with the North's cheap labor.

The two Koreas remain divided since 1948. They fought a bloody three-year war in the early 1950s.
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