NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 25 (October 16, 2008) |
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS
Civic Groups Asked to Refrain from Flying Leaflets into N. Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seoul has asked local civic groups to refrain from flying propaganda leaflets into North Korea following a strongly worded protest by the communist state during a military meeting, officials said Oct. 8.
The request is in line with Seoul's recent efforts to thaw icy relations with Pyongyang.
"We recently requested that related organizations refrain from sending leaflets," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, told reporters. "Our officials called the organizations to brief them on the content of recent working-level military talks and current inter-Korean relations, and asked for their cooperation."
The inter-Korean military talks held on Oct. 2 at the truce village of Panmunjom were the first under the Lee Myung-bak administration. During the meeting, North Korea demanded that Seoul criminally punish those responsible for distributing the leaflets and promise to prevent any recurrence.
The two Koreas agreed in June 2004 to halt propaganda activities along the inter-Korean border to reduce tension. But several civic groups that aid North Korean defectors have been sending helium balloons carrying leaflets condemning the socialist government.
Pyongyang's delegation was quoted as saying that inaction could result in the eviction of all South Koreans from the joint Kaesong industrial complex as well as from the South Korean-developed resort at Mt. Kumgang, just north of the Demilitarized Zone.
The civic groups, however, said they will continue to spread leaflets despite the government's request for cooperation.
"We don't understand why the government intervenes in the legitimate activities of a human rights group in a society ruled by free democracy, based solely on claims by the North," said Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for Free North Korea.
"We will hold the event as scheduled," he said in reference to the group's plan to fly balloons carrying about 100,000 leaflets over the North on Friday.
North Korea celebrates the 63rd anniversary of its Workers' Party on that day.
Another defector group said they will fly 50,000 leaflets over the west coast city of Pocheon just south of the inter-Korean border, on Oct. 10 to 11.
Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated since the inauguration of President Lee, a conservative who has been staunchly pro-U.S. Lee pledged to halt what he called the "unconditional aid" that had flowed to the communist state under a decade of liberal governance, unless Pyongyang agrees to denuclearize.
The president later softened his stance, but relations further degenerated after a South Korean woman was shot dead by a North Korean soldier while visiting the Mt. Kumgang resort in early July.
Pyongyang has refused to apologize or cooperate in the investigation of the shooting, and maintains that the woman was responsible for her death because she wandered into a restricted military zone.
S. Korea Budgets $460 Million for Rice, Fertilizer Aid to N. Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has earmarked 643 billion won (US$460 million) for a possible shipment of rice and fertilizer to North Korea next year in humanitarian aid, a related ministry said on Oct. 9, despite chilled ties between the two sides.
Seoul had suspended the traditional aid for Pyongyang under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, which favors reciprocity in inter-Korean relations. But the government said it could resume the assistance if the North accepts dialogue to discuss the issue.
Under the Unification Ministry's budget plan for next year, the inter-Korean economic cooperation fund, aimed at promoting cross-border human exchanges and economic partnerships, will increase 8.6 percent to 1.5 trillion won from 1.3 trillion won this year.
The budget for humanitarian assistance accounts for 72 percent of the fund, a sharp rise from 43 percent this year, mainly attributable to hikes in rice and fertilizer prices, said the ministry in change of policy on North Korea.
"We plan to send 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer to North Korea if needed," Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho told reporters.
The ministry has allocated 352 billion won for rice and 291 billion won for fertilizer aid, he added.
The budget for inter-Korean economic projects, however, has been halved to 300 billion won in accordance with the Lee administration's policy of linking them with progress in efforts to denuclearize the North, economic feasibility, financial capacity, and public opinion.
Meanwhile, the ministry has created a separate account for denuclearization costs in the inter-Korean cooperation fund, a measure that will go into effect on Friday, a day after the second anniversary of North Korea's nuclear test.
South Korea has delivered fuel oil and energy-related materials to North Korea under an aid-for-denuclearization deal last year in the six-way nuclear talks. Related spending has been categorized as energy aid.
"The denuclearization account has been established to secure the budgets and operate them separately in case of progress in the (denuclearization) process," the vice minister said.
Seoul Closely Monitoring N. Korean Moves in Yellow Sea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military authorities are paying close attention to North Korean activities as tension is running high after Pyongyang's recent military exercises near the western inter-Korean maritime border, officials said on Oct. 12.
The renewed tension comes as the North reportedly fired short-range missiles in the Yellow Sea on Oct. 7. Pyongyang later accused South Korean ships of violating its territorial waters and warned that a clash could take place, an argument that Seoul dismissed as groundless.
Seoul military sources also confirmed that the North's patrol boats engaged in live ammunition and other military drills in September near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which serves as a virtual maritime border between the two countries.
"We are currently paying close attention to developments unfolding in the West Sea," a Seoul military official said on condition of anonymity.
Pyongyang has in recent years demanded that the NLL, drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, be scrapped in exchange for a revised demarcation line that gives greater control over contested waters to the North.
Seoul has rejected such demands and maintains that the NLL will remain the de facto sea border. The South Korean Navy, which is much stronger than its northern counterpart, has enforced the status quo, ejecting North Korean patrol boats that stray south of the line.
North Korea's vessels have violated the NLL seven times so far this year, compared with eight such incidents recorded last year, according to military sources. The two Koreas clashed twice in the Yellow Sea in 1999 and 2002, which cost the lives of six sailors here.
The two have remained technically at war since their 1950-1953 conflict ended in an armistice, instead of a peace treaty.
Seoul expects U.S. delisting to positively affect inter-Korean ties
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Oct. 13 it expects North Korea's removal from a U.S. terrorism blacklist will positively influence inter-Korean ties.
North Korea said on Oct. 12 it would resume disabling its plutonium-producing nuclear plant and allow in inspectors after Washington announced a decision to remove the communist state from the list.
"We hope it will bring a positive effect in improving inter-Korean relations," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the ministry dealing with North Korea, told reporters.
"We are considering readjusting various (inter-Korean cooperation) programs," he said. The consideration is inclusive of Seoul's delivery of food and energy aid to the North, he added.
He, however, did not specify further about the scope of changes.
Pyongyang cut off dialogue with Seoul after its new President Lee Myung-bak took office in late February and pledged to take a tougher stance on the North. Ties have deteriorated further since July 11 when a North Korean soldier shot dead a Seoul housewife who allegedly crossed into a fenced-off military zone during her tour to Mt. Kumgang on the North's east coast.
Lee has vowed to link large-scale inter-Korean cooperation programs to progress in North Korea's nuclear disarmament.