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2008/05/01 09:55 KST


Pyongyang rejects Seoul's liaison office proposal

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In another sign of chilly inter-Korean relations, North Korea has spurned South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's proposal for the two countries to set up liaison offices in each other's capitals. Lee made the offer in an interview with the Washington Post during his recent trip to the U.S., saying such a regular dialogue channel would help improve inter-Korean ties.

   The Rodong Sinmun, published by the North's ruling Workers' Party, on April 26 described Lee's offer as a "shallow tactic to dodge its responsibility for worsening inter-Korean ties and to distract public opinion." In its commentary, the propaganda mouthpiece called Lee's idea an "anti-reunification antique."

   The North's rejection was not unexpected. In the 1990s, the South proposed in high-level inter-Korean talks that liaison offices be established in each other's capitals, but the North rejected the proposal.

   Relations between the Koreas have been strained since the conservative Lee administration took office in late February. Lee has vowed to get tougher on North Korea's delaying of its denuclearization and on its human rights abuses.

   North Korea expelled about a dozen South Korean government officials in March from a joint industrial complex in Kaesong, located just north of the demilitarized zone bisecting the Koreas. The measure was in protest against Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong's comment that Seoul will slow the pace of the complex's expansion unless the North takes steps towards denuclearization. Moreover, the North has banned South Korean military and government officials from crossing the border.

   Experts here said the frosty relations will likely continue for the time being. "South and North Korea are aware of what each other wants," said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "The (South Korean) government needs to save face for both sides by making an offer to North Korea in a prudent manner through a dialogue channel, rather than doing so unilaterally," he said.


North Korea to boycott May Day celebrations amid strained ties

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on April 24 that it will boycott a joint May Day festival with South Korea, citing Seoul's tougher stance toward Pyongyang.

   Labor groups of the Koreas have marked the May 1 anniversary together with a soccer friendly, joint survey of historic sites, seminars and meetings since 2001. The event, mostly held in the North, has been one of the symbols of rapprochement since the historic first summit between leaders of the two Koreas in June 2000.

   This year's event was expected to be held in Pyongyang around May 1 if an agreement was reached between the two sides.

   North Korea informed a South Korean delegation from two umbrella labor unions of its decision not to hold this year's event during the group's visit to Mt. Kumgang for talks during April 10-11, Kim Yeong-je, chief of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions' unification bureau, said.

   Pyongyang said President Lee Myung-bak's failure to honor key inter-Korean economic projects agreed upon at last year's inter-Korean summit and his "hostile" remarks toward the communist state were the reasons for the boycott, he said.

   The North also cited a South Korean umbrella union's support for conservative candidates in the April 9 parliamentary elections in the South. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions is one of the two South Korean umbrella unions involved in the event. There has been a schism between the two groups over their political stance.

   The decision came amid worsening relations between the Koreas over Seoul's repeated call for North Korea to denuclearize and improve its human rights conditions. Pyongyang has retaliated by expelling South Korean government officials from the joint industrial complex in Kaesong and from Mt. Kumgang as well as threatened to cut off all dialogue with South Korea.

   During the meeting in early April, the North's General Federation of Trade Unions and the two South Korean organizations "reached a consensus to replace the main May Day event with smaller joint programs by industrial labor unions of the two sides this year," Kim said.

   Last year's joint event was held in the South Korean industrial city of Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. It marked the first time for the event held in the South.


North Korean officer defects to South Korea through border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean soldier has defected to South Korea through the inter-Korean border, marking the first defection by a military officer via the heavily-fortified border in 10 years, an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on April 28.

   The North Korean, identified only by his surname Ri, crossed the border shortly before 5 p.m. on April 27 and told South Korean guards that he was seeking asylum, the official said, asking not to be identified.

   The 28-year-old second lieutenant has been handed over to a joint investigation team of the National Intelligence Service, the Military Security Command and the police, according to the official.

   "He is being questioned by the joint review committee of related offices, but I understand he has made it clear that he wishes to stay in the South," the official told reporters.

   The North Korean is the first commissioned officer to defect to South Korea through the border since 1998 when a first lieutenant crossed the border, according to JCS officials. An enlisted member of the North's Korean People's Army crossed the border last year.