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2009/04/02 11:04 KST


S. Korean Worker Detained in N. Korea with No Outside Access

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea was holding a South Korean worker for a third day as of April 1 in the Kaesong industrial complex for allegedly denouncing its political system and recommending North Korean defection.

   The detained worker is an engineer with Hyundai Asan Corp., a unit of Hyundai Group, and works at the joint industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. The North has so far ignored Seoul's repeated calls to allow access to the detained engineer, said Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo.

   Officials have not disclosed the man's identity, except to say that he is single and in his 40s. He was taken into custody on April 30 after being accused of criticizing the socialist regime and urging a North Korean female employee to defect. "No access has been allowed so far," the spokeswoman said. "The North has told us nothing other than a notice it sent on the 30th."

   In a fax message to the Seoul government on March 30, the North said the detained worker "denounced the political system of our highly esteemed republic and schemed to degenerate and spoil our female employee to incite defection."

   But Lee said Pyongyang cannot try South Korean citizens involved in joint economic ventures, citing inter-Korean accords which say North Korea can only fine or expel South Koreans violating its law. To take more punitive steps, Pyongyang needs Seoul's consent, she said.

   Seoul will continue to urge North Korea to allow the detainee to consult an attorney according to inter-Korean accords governing joint economic ventures, said the ministry spokeswoman. North Korea may fine or expel South Koreans violating its law, but cannot try them in its territory, she said.

   There have been several cases of South Korean workers and tourists being detained in the North for violating its laws since inter-Korean ventures picked up following the landmark summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000.

   All of them were released after a brief detention, but the latest incident raises special concerns as it comes amid frosty relations on the peninsula and just days ahead of North Korea's planned rocket launch, which could take place as early as this coming weekend.

   Inter-Korean ties have chilled since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in February last year, who demands more reciprocity from Pyongyang.

   The Kaesong venture is the only major cross-border project that remains intact between the two divided Koreas. Other visible projects, including tours to Mt. Kumgang and historic sites in Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital, have all been suspended.

   North Korea barred South Korean border crossings to the joint complex several times in March in protest over an annual U.S.-South Korean joint military exercise.

   The North also expelled hundreds of South Korean workers and curtailed border traffic in December in retaliation against the Seoul government's toughened stance on Pyongyang's nuclear arms.

   In Kaesong, just an hour's drive from Seoul, 101 small garment and other labor-intensive South Korean firms are currently operating at the South Korean-funded industrial complex, which employs some 39,000 North Korean workers.

   The incident comes amid rising inter-Korean tension ahead of the North's planned rocket launch slated for early April. The North claims that its rocket launch is to put a communications satellite into orbit but many outside experts suspect it is a cover for test-launching a long-range missile.

   The detention also comes as the North seeks to put to trial two American journalists detained in a border region in late March on charges of illegal entry and hostile acts, according to its state news agency.

   The Unification Ministry spokeswoman ruled out any connection between the detention of the South Korean worker and the U.S. journalists, saying "they occurred in separate places for separate reasons."

   Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korean studies professor at Korea University in Seoul, said Pyongyang would want to have regional countries on full alert to maximize the effects of its rocket launch, he said. "North Korea has seized and is sternly dealing with what would usually have been brushed off," Yoo said. "By raising tensions, it wants to raise its voice in negotiations to come."


Two More Community Centers for N. Korean Defectors Open

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea opened two more community centers for North Korean defectors on March 30, following one that was launched last week, as part of efforts to help them better adjust to life in the capitalist South.

   All North Korean defectors who enter South Korea currently must go through a 12-week resettlement training program in a state-run center south of Seoul called the Hanawon. But the newcomers still struggle to integrate at work and in school in a drastically different society.

   Amid a growing influx of newcomers from North Korea, the Unification Ministry plans to operate community centers for them across the country to respond to their need for continued support.

   The adjustment facility, called Hana Center, first opened in Seoul's Nowon District last week, and two others were launched on March 30 in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, west of Seoul, and the southeastern metropolitan city of Daegu.

   "Looking forward to peaceful reunification in the future, our government is preparing for systematic and comprehensive measures to help North Korean defectors settle in our society," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said in an opening ceremony in Bucheon.

   He also said South Korea's support for defectors' adjustment is a litmus test for its preparedness for reunification.

   The Hana Center provides a three-week adjustment program to help defectors find work and medical services and provides counseling. Tutors are also available for their children.

   More than 15,000 people from North Korea have settled in the South, with about 3,000 more expected to come this year. Even though language is one barrier the newcomers do not have to deal with, surveys show they still struggle to adjust and are mostly sidelined from mainstream society.

   A recent survey commissioned by the Unification Ministry indicated that North Korean defectors working in South Korea earn less than a third of the average monthly income of their South Korean counterparts.

   The newcomers earned an average of 937,000 won (US$689) per person a month, compared with the 2.9 million won the average South Korean employee receives. They mostly ended up in low-paying blue-collar jobs, with day laborers accounting for 43 percent, compared to 9 percent for South Korean workers, according to the survey.

   The ministry plans to open 12 more centers next year.