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2009/02/12 11:08 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 41 (February 12, 2009)

   *** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

South Korea Rejects News Exchange with North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The Seoul government turned down a proposal from a local journalist association to exchange news with North Korea, concerned that Pyongyang may use the medium for its own propaganda, officials said Feb. 4.

   The decision appeared to be in line with the conservative Lee Myung-bak government's hardline policy, which has led to deeply frozen inter-Korean relations. The journalist association said it may take the case to court.

   Journalist groups from the two Koreas reached an agreement in Pyongyang in October to exchange news, editorials, photos and videos through their respective websites. The South Korean group then submitted the necessary documents to obtain government approval.

   The Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs notified the Seoul-based association of its rejection in late January, said ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun. "There are concerns that the exchange of news articles may undermine national security, public order and the interests of the general public," the spokesman told reporters.

   Another ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "The government sees the possibility that the exchange may serve as a mouthpiece for North Korea delivering its messages to the South."

   Media access across the border, with few exceptions, is strictly banned on both sides of the peninsula. Under the October agreement, South Korean news reports would be published on North Korea's official website, Uriminzokkiri, for North Korean citizens, while Uriminzokkiri would send its news reports to the South Korean association's Web site (wwww.tongilpress.com).

   South Korea's journalist association berated Seoul's decision as an "insult" to the press and said it will take the case to court if the ministry refuses to reconsider. The association is part of the South Korean Committee for the June 15 Joint Statement, an umbrella organization of about 40 groups nationwide established after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

   "It's an insult to journalists to say we will be the mouthpiece for the North. It's nonsense to make journalists bear the responsibility for the extremely damaged inter-Korean relations," Lee Jun-hee, co-chair of the association, said.

   Critics say the decision is unfair, considering similar cases approved by the previous liberal administration. Tongil News, a Seoul-based Internet news organization, received government approval to exchange articles with Uriminzokkiri in April 2007.

   Yonhap News Agency also has access to North Korean stories under a subscription contract signed with the North in 2006.

  
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Hyundai Asan Desperate to Resume Tours to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean company operating businesses in North Korea said on Feb. 4 it is "desperate" to resume tours to a scenic mountain resort in the North within two months, citing the firm's deteriorating finances.

   The chances, however, of resuming the tours to the North's Mt. Kumgang appear remote, as Pyongyang recently took a series of hostile actions that have inflamed tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The tours have been suspended since July last year when a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier.

   "The tour to Mt. Kumgang should be resumed in April by all means," said Cho Kun-shik, chief executive of Hyundai Asan Corp., the South's tour operator.

   Cho, a former vice minister with the South's unification ministry in charge of North Korean affairs, said the company is pulling out all the stops to resume the tours.

   "We are now reaching a critical situation," Cho told reporters. "Unless the tours resume by April, it will be difficult for us to stay afloat."

   The tour suspension has cost Hyundai Asan 100 billion won (US$72.4 million) in lost sales, a devastating blow for the company, which usually records an annual revenue of around 200 billion won, Cho said.

   Since July last year, Hyundai Asan had nearly halved its workforce to 479 employees to cut costs, he added.

   On Feb. 3, South Korean government officials said the North was preparing to test-launch a long-range ballistic missile, citing U.S. satellite images of a North Korean train allegedly carrying the missile.

   In late January, North Korea said it nullified all agreements on easing military tensions with the South, in what many analysts say was a retaliatory move against Seoul's hard-line policy and an attempt to increase leverage before U.S. President Barack Obama finalizes his policy on the socialist state.

   The mountain tour program, which began in 1998, was a key achievement of the so-called "sunshine policy" of former liberal President Kim Dae-jung. In return for inter-Korean rapprochement, Seoul offered generous aid to Pyongyang.

   Inter-Korean relations have since chilled drastically under the government of conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who was inaugurated in February last year on a pledge to take a firmer line on the North.

   President Lee said there would be no more generous aid unless the North lives up to its commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Lee has said a "wait and see" approach is the most viable policy option.

  
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S. Korean Groups Step up Aid Efforts for N. Korea Despite Tension

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean civic groups are gearing up to send humanitarian aid to North Korea, despite Seoul's frosty political relations with Pyongyang, according to the groups on Feb. 8.

   All government-to-government relations between the two Koreas have been halted since the inauguration early last year of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took a more hardline policy on the North than his liberal predecessors.

   Despite the chill in inter-Korean ties, however, private aid by South Korean groups to the impoverished communist neighbor have continued.

   Last week, a gathering of some 20 South Korean civic groups held talks with officials at the North's National Reconciliation Council in China's northeastern city of Shenyang to discuss details regarding aid shipments later this year, the South Korean officials said.

   Lee Yoon-sang, head of Nanum International, one of the South Korean groups, said his group will focus on modernizing medical facilities in the North's capital city of Pyongyang.

   "This year, we plan to finalize the modernization of People's Hospital in Pyongyang's Gangnam district, as well as other facilities," Lee said.

   Officials at Nanum International, which specializes in medical aid to North Korea, plan to leave for Pyongyang to discuss details with officials there, Lee said.

   Another South Korean group, Gyeongnam Unification Cooperative, said it plans to help North Korean farmers build greenhouses to grow fruit in winter and a soybean milk plant in Pyongyang.

   "North Korean officials were pleased as they know that their farmers will be able to harvest strawberries in winter," said Jeon Gang-seok, head of the cooperative.

  (END)