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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Oct. 3)

All Headlines 09:14 October 03, 2016

The president's speech

President Park Geun-hye has officially urged North Koreans to come to South Korea.

During a speech marking the 68th Armed Forces Day on Oct. 1, Park made remarks on helping North Korean soldiers and citizens find hope and a better life in the South. Despite the straightforwardness of her message, we appreciate her declaration as it reflects growing aspirations for the restoration of human rights in the North.

Opposition parties immediately attacked her declaration as a possible "declaration of war against North Korea." But a normal country has an obligation to promote the human rights of North Koreans. Pyongyang deserves Park’s strong remarks given its harsh oppression of its people.

Before denouncing Park's remarks as "an act to destroy us," North Korea must confront its infamous human rights issue separate from nuclear negotiations.

But the real problem lies with us. Despite repeated vows to enhance North Koreans' human rights, our government has stopped way short of offering substantive assistance to North Korean defectors except for a small sum of money to help them settle down in South Korean society after they finish re-education at Hanawon. That's it.

The ideological divide is still serious. Some lawmakers from the opposition even regard those defectors as "betrayers," which can partly explain why an increasing number of the defectors turn to countries in Europe and America. The government must do its best to help them live a happy life in the South while being respected by South Koreans.

President Park also underscored that an act fueling our internal division and confusion is more dangerous than the North's nuclear provocations. That is correct. But at the same time, we wonder what she really meant by "internal division and confusion." We would like to interpret the phrase as a warning against ongoing divisiveness over sensitive security issues like deploying the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system.

We hope she does not intend to stigmatize justifiable accusations from the opposition as an "attempt to deepen national division and confusion." We still have vivid memories of our past authoritative governments clamping down on any criticism against the government after branding them as "divisive acts that would help North Korea."

Our president has the right to highlight dangers and demand internal unity. But a democratic process must be respected in a critical moment like this. If the president blocks justifiable concerns on the pretext of a North Korean nuclear threat, that further divides our people.
(END)

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