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2008/06/19 11:29 KST


Civilian Delegations of Koreas Celebrate June 15 Summit Anniversary

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite strained inter-Korean relations, South and North Korean civilian delegations on June 16 completed a joint event marking the eighth anniversary of a landmark summit between the two countries, calling on Seoul to implement the accords from the summit.

   Marking the anniversary of the 2000 summit, a 258-member South Korean civic delegation crossed the border into North Korea on June 14 to join the annual joint celebration at the North's scenic resort of Mt. Kumgang.

   Seoul agreed with Pyongyang to defuse tension and develop various cooperation programs, including the joint industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, during the 2000 and 2007 summits between the two sides.

   But relations have been chilly since the conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was inaugurated in late February, took a tougher stance toward Pyongyang. Lee has shown no clear intention of carrying out the cooperation programs agreed upon at the 2000 and 2007 summits, citing negative public opinion on "investing" huge sums of taxpayer money in the nuclear-armed neighbor.

   In stark contrast with the events held when the South was under liberal rule, no government officials participated in the two-day gathering, and no state subsidies were provided. The administration of previous President Roh Moo-hyun sent ranking officials to the function in 2005 and 2006 and had annually provided at least 300 million won (US$287,714) from the civilian-government fund raised to support inter-Korean cooperation programs.

   "Changes in currently stalled inter-Korean relations can only be made when the past eight years of progress in relations since the June 15, 2000 summit are respected and efforts are doubled to increase inter-Korean unity based on this," Oh Jong-ryol, a South Korean member of the joint committee for the implementation of the June 15 summit declaration, was quoted as saying in his closing speech.

   Paik Nak-chung, a Seoul National University professor emeritus and the South Korean chairman of the committee, led the South's delegation to the event.

   "The South and North Korean authorities should not make a mistake by losing historic momentum at a time when they have to discuss building a permanent peace regime," Paik said in a speech before crossing the border to return home.

   An Kyong-ho, the North's chairman of the joint committee, was quoted as saying in his closing speech, "If we yield to today's temporary hardship, this land will be covered with a frost of confrontation and division." He added, "The reality requires us to make more efforts (to overcome the hardship)," apparently calling for increased efforts to break the inter-Korean deadlock.

   The participants, who included 100 North Koreans and 80 overseas Koreans, adopted a similar joint statement on the first day of the event, in which they vowed to stick to the two summit declarations and muster forces to achieve peaceful reunification.

   But North Korea renewed criticism of President Lee on the day of summit anniversary, denouncing him as "backward." "The anti-Korean, anti-unification maneuvers by backward Lee Myung-bak adherents can never be justified by anything," the North's main Internet media site "Uriminzokkiri," meaning "between our people," said in a commentary.

   Lee has said Seoul will only send food aid to North Korea if Pyongyang requests it. The North did not ask for South Korean food aid this year, despite deepening worries over its food shortfall, which aid groups say could be the worst in seven years due to last year's flooding and rising world grain prices. Apparently angry about Lee's tough stance, Pyongyang kicked all South Korean officials out of its territory and cut off dialogue.

   The bitter criticism of Lee was echoed by the entire North Korean media. They called on Lee's administration to implement the agreements for economic and political cooperation reached by the leaders of the Koreas in the 2000 and 2007 summits.

   "The one who will achieve the unification of Korea is the Korean people, and we can never solve the problems of unification if we depend on foreign forces," the Tongil Sinbo, a North Korean weekly, said. It added, "The Korean people should cement and mature the achievements (of the two summits) on a united front."

   In the meantime, the two sides decided to mark the Aug. 15 Liberation Day anniversary at separate functions, rather than at a joint event. The Koreas previously held joint celebrations for the anniversary, marking the day in 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule, from 2001 to 2006.