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2008/06/26 10:46 KST


Two Koreas Draw in World Cup Qualifier

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea held South Korea to a scoreless draw on June 22 for the second time in their third 2010 World Cup qualifying round, but failed to stop the South from finishing first in Asian Group 3.

   The match at Seoul World Cup Stadium came amid strained relations between the Cold War rivals, with North Korea initially having refused to play South Korea in either of their capitals.

   The North succeeded in relocating the first of the two inter-Korean qualifiers from its capital to the Chinese city of Shanghai in March after refusing to allow the South to raise its national flag and play its anthem in Pyongyang. North Korea failed in a second relocation attempt when FIFA dismissed their request to have the Seoul match moved to a more neutral venue, including the South Korean resort island of Jeju.

   Cheered by some 48,500 fans, the two squads -- both of which have already clinched berths for the final qualifying round for the World Cup in South Africa -- exchanged a barrage of shots, but came short of scoring.

   North Korea relied heavily on their top striker Jong Tae-se to mount a mainly counteroffensive campaign, while goalie Ri Myong-guk made a number of saves to stop the South from converting a host of chances into goals.

   The first real threat to South Korea came in the 16th minute, when the charging Jong launched a powerful mid-range shot that ended up in the arms of crouching goalie Jung Sung-ryong.

   North Korea's leading midfielder Hong Yong-jo nearly stunned the South Koreans when he rifled a volley shot in the 37th minute inside the penalty area that was blocked by the kneeling Jung.

   South Korea appeared to begin their rally in the second half when Kim Do-heon of England's West Bromwich Albions took hold of the ball that bounced off the head of a North Korean defender and hit it squarely at Ri. A minute later, South Korean substitute Park Chu-young squandered a rare chance when he drove into the penalty area and smashed a low pass that went just above the upper goal post.

   The draw was the two Koreas' fourth since 2005. South Korea, ranked 45th in the world, have won five times and lost only once to 118th-ranked North Korea.

   Dozens of white-clad South Koreans formed a section in the crowd to root for both teams, waving flags depicting a unified Korea and expressing their hope for reconciliation between the two sides that remain technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

   The South allowed the North to use its national symbols at the Seoul stadium, despite the previous decision by the communist state to forbid the South Korean squad from doing so in Pyongyang.

   A huge South Korean national flag appeared in the crowd, with fans holding it up in a show of national pride. No rallies by conservative groups protesting the North's March decision to keep the South Korean squad out of Pyongyang were reported, relieving police concerns.

   Asia has been allotted 4.5 berths in the 2010 World Cup. Five groups of four teams competed in the third qualifying round, and only two from each group will advance to the next and final round that will begin in September. Ten teams will advance to the final qualifying rounds, with two teams from each group receiving World Cup berths. The fifth team will play a top-seeded squad from Oceania for the last remaining berth.

   North Korea's national football squad left South Korea's Incheon International Airport on June 23 at around 1 p.m. for Beijing to catch a connecting flight to Pyongyang.

   Jong Tae-se, North Korea's main striker, took a separate flight about half an hour later to Japan to join his professional club. "I hope to face South Korea again in the final qualifying round," Jong told reporters before boarding his flight.

   Ahn Young-hak, a midfielder, remained in South Korea to return to the Samsung Suwon Bluewings of the domestic K-League.


Inter-Korean Trade Rises This Year Despite Political Chill

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite the deteriorating inter-Korean relations, South Korea's trade with North Korea in the first five months of this year surged 30 percent year-on-year thanks to brisk industrial exchanges that offset a sharp drop in humanitarian aid, the Unification Ministry said on June 24.

   Inter-Korean trade volume increased to US$734.25 million in the January-May period, up from $562.92 million during the same period last year, according to ministry data. The increase was notable in the commercial sector, which posted $685 million worth of trade over the months, up 52 percent on-year.

   However, exchanges in non-commercial areas significantly contracted due to strained inter-Korean political ties. Non-commercial trade dropped by 56 percent to $49.2 million.

   In May alone this year, South Korea's trade with North Korea surged 14 percent on-year thanks to brisk industrial exchanges. Inter-Korean trade volume increased to $172.7 million, up from $151.9 million in May last year, according to ministry data. The increase was notable in the commercial sector, which posted $153.1 million worth of trade in May, up 46 percent from $104.8 million on the same month last year.

   Cross-border exchanges more than doubled in the countries' two joint economic projects -- the industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong and the tourism program in the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang. Trade from the flagship inter-Korean projects increased to $89.5 million, compared to $40.9 million in May last year.

   The industrial complex and tourism program are the crowning achievements of a landmark summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000. Sixty-nine South Korean firms operate in Kaesong, producing goods with 24,000 skilled North Korean workers who work for low salaries.

   Government data showed the number of South Koreans travelling to Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang increased to 56,957, up 74.5 percent from the same month last year.

   However, exchanges in non-commercial areas significantly contracted due to strained inter-Korean political ties. Non-commercial trade dropped by 58 percent to $19.6 million, compared to $47.1 million. Particularly, the South's government and civilian humanitarian aid to North Korea fell to $8.4 million, a mere 18 percent of the $46.4 million that was sent to the North in May last year.

   Relations have been frozen since Lee took office in late February, ending South Korea's decade-long "Sunshine Policy" of engaging North Korea. Supported by the growing public perception that the South was using too much taxpayer money to aid its nuclear-armed neighbor, Lee has linked inter-Korean projects to Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament and openly criticized the North's human rights condition.

   Lee said Seoul will send food aid only if North Korea requests it first. The North did not ask for South Korean food aid this year, despite deepening concerns 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.

   In a show of deep discontent with Seoul, Pyongyang said inter-Korean relations are in their "worst crisis" in years. "South Korea's belligerent regime is hanging on military confrontational affairs," the North's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said on June 22. Such confrontation "has destroyed the inter-Korean atmosphere of reconciliation and unity and turned the tide of the cross-border relations, which is now in the worst crisis since the June 15" inter-Korean summit in 2000, it said.