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(LEAD) South Korea's ruling party drafts new human rights bill on N. Korea
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEOUL, Aug. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's ruling party has drafted a new North Korean human rights bill calling for aid to its impoverished communist neighbor, a lawmaker said Friday.

   The Grand National Party (GNP) has also proposed to the main opposition Democratic Party that they co-sponsor the bill, said GNP deputy floor leader Lee Myung-gyu, in an apparent bid to pass it through the parliament.

   The rival parties have been mired in a dispute over North Korea's alleged dismal human rights record and Seoul's aid to Pyongyang, which has held back legislation designed to help improve conditions in the North.

   A bill previously sponsored by the GNP alone has been gathering dust in the parliamentary judiciary committee since last year. In June, the main opposition party submitted a separate bill that primarily focuses on humanitarian aid to the North.

   The latest move comes a month after a group of British lawmakers sent letters to the leaders of South Korea's political parties urging them to pass a bill on improving the rights situation in the North.

   However, the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North, opposed the revised bill, urging the parliament to abide by the original GNP bill.

   "The original North Korean human rights bill also stated humanitarian aid in its goal of legislation," a senior ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "I think humanitarian aid is in the policy arena, not a matter that should be stipulated by law."

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

   North Korea has threatened to retaliate "mercilessly" and "sternly" if South Korea passes a bill on the its human rights record.