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Controversy erupts over S. Korea's abstention from U.N. vote in 2007

All Headlines 21:17 October 14, 2016

SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- A former top South Korean diplomat has claimed that Seoul abstained from the 2007 vote on a U.N. resolution about North's Korea's human rights situation after hearing Pyongyang's opinion.

Former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon also said in his memoir published this week that former opposition leader Moon Jae-in, who served as chief of staff to then-President Roh Moo-hyun, made a decision to ask North Korea's opinion ahead of the vote.

His comments sparked a political firestorm in a country where many are deeply divided along ideological fault lines on how to cope with North Korea.

The ruling Saenuri Party called for a parliamentary hearing to get to the bottom of the issue, while the main opposition Minjoo Party, which was led by Moon from 2015 to early this year, dismissed the ruling party's demand as a political offensive.

The U.N. vote came about 40 days after Roh met with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2007 in the second summit between leaders of the rival Koreas.

In November, Song and other top officials were at odds over whether South Korea should vote in favor or against the U.N. resolution, which called for, among other things, improvement of the North's human rights conditions.

Amid the dispute, then-intelligence chief Kim Man-bok floated the idea of asking North Korea's opinion and Moon accepted it, according to the memoir.

North Korea later told the South that it would closely keep an eye on Seoul's vote, as it warned of dangerous situations, Song said in his memoir, citing his conversation with Baek Jong-chun, then-chief secretary on foreign and security policy for Roh.

Roh -- a liberal president who sought reconciliation with North Korea -- eventually decided to abstain from the 2007 U.N. vote on North Korea's human rights record, Song said.

Many liberal South Koreans have shied away from the issue of North Korea's human rights out of fear that it could strain inter-Korean relations.

Kim Man-bok, who headed the National Intelligence Service from 2006 to 2008, denied that he made the suggestion, saying "isn't it obvious that North Korea would have voiced its opposition" if Seoul had asked for Pyongyang's opinion.

North Korea's human rights record has drawn greater international attention since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued a report in 2014 after a year-long probe, saying that North Korean leaders are responsible for "widespread, systematic and gross" violations of human rights.

North Korea has long been accused of grave human rights abuses, ranging from holding political prisoners in concentration camps to committing torture and carrying out public executions.

Still, North Korea has bristled at outside criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.


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