NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 71 (September 10, 2009) |
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS
S. Korea Demands Apology from N. Korea for Deadly Dam Discharge
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea demanded an apology and a further explanation from North Korea on Sept. 8 over a sudden discharge of dam water that left six people dead, saying the North's initial response was not satisfactory.
Some 40 million tons of water from the North's Hwanggang Dam pushed through the Imjin River, which flows to South Korea's west coast, in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 6, sweeping away the victims who were camping or fishing along the riverbanks.
South Korean rescue workers recovered on Sept. 9 the bodies of three campers who had gone missing, accounting for all six flood victims.
North Korea responded rather promptly to Seoul's earlier demand for an explanation, saying Sept. 7 the discharge was caused by a sudden surge of water in a dam, but it did not mention or apologize for the lives lost. However, Pyongyang said it will issue alerts in the future to prevent the recurrence of similar floods.
"We looked into the raised issue and found that the water was discharged on emergency as it reached high levels," the North was quoted by Seoul's Unification Ministry as saying in a faxed letter. Seoul protested the discharge and demanded an explanation. Pyongyang responded just hours later, but its explanation was not considered enough.
"We deeply regret that the North Korean notice is not sufficient enough to convince us and it had no mention of the loss of human lives on our side," the ministry said in a statement.
But Seoul's point man on the North said Sept. 9 that North Korea may have intentionally discharged water from the dam, adding that the government was still looking into the North's exact motives. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told parliament that the government believes the North deliberately discharged some 40 million tons of water from its Hwanggang Dam.
South Korea had previously said it was looking into all possibilities that may have caused the North to release so much water without prior warning. "North Korea acknowledged its unannounced discharge of water, which means it was not an accident or a mistake," Hyun told the National Assembly's Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee.
Kim Sung-hwan, South Korea's top presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security, said Sept. 8 the government was trying to verify the exact cause of the unannounced discharge by the North. "You can understand that we are looking at the case with all possibilities open," Kim said in a press briefing when asked if Seoul believes the discharge could have been intentional.
Kim said South Korea was working with its allies to secure satellite images of the accident site taken at the time of the tragic incident. He said initial reports suggest there had been no torrential rains in the North in recent days.
President Lee Myung-bak offered condolences to the families of six South Koreans who were killed. "It grieves me that six innocent lives were lost," the president was quoted as saying in a Cabinet meeting Sept. 8. He also said that a thorough investigation into the case should be conducted to prevent the recurrence of such an incident.
The Unification Ministry in Seoul demanded a more thorough explanation from the North, however, saying Pyongyang's initial response failed to explain why it was forced to discharge the water as it claims.
"With regard to the loss of our citizens' lives, our government demands a sufficient explanation from responsible authorities in the North and an apology," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a statement released at a press briefing.
Meanwhile, South Korea returned to the North the body of a North Korean boy, which had drifted downriver along with the floodwater, ministry officials said. The boy, aged four or five and discovered by a South Korean army guard, was handed over to the North through the truce village of Panmunjom on "humanitarian grounds," said Lee Jong-joo, spokeswoman for the ministry.
The deadly flood has aggravated cross-border relations, which had recently shown signs of recovering. For the first time in nearly two years, the countries are set to hold reunions for families separated by the Korean War this month. A cross-border consultation office also reopened this week at a joint industrial complex in the North, months after Pyongyang shut it down to protest Seoul's hard-line policy against its nuclear program.
Flash floods have frequently caused damage to fish farms in the South Korean border county of Yeoncheon, 60km northeast of Seoul, since North Korea began building dams to generate much-needed electricity along the Imjin River in 2000 and discharging water after summer monsoons without notice. The latest incident, however, is the first to result in human casualties.
The Hwanggang Dam, some 40km north of the border, was reportedly completed in 2007 and can hold up to 400 million tons of water. More than 340mm of rain fell on the region in late August, according to the North's state television.
The victims were about 25km south of the border when the floodwaters came.
South Korea's alert system was also faulted. The military detected rising water levels, but failed to notify the local government, leaving the campers unattended. Flood alert equipment along the riverside also failed to operate.
The Koreas have no formal accord on controlling the floodgates. Seoul has asked for pre-notification at inter-Korean talks in recent years, but the two sides have not been able to settle on technical procedures. There have been no consultations on the matter since the conservative Lee Myung-bak government came to power in Seoul last year.
Koreas Normalize Consultation Office in Kaesong Industrial Park
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea resumed on Sept. 7 operations at a consultation office that oversees daily affairs at their joint industrial park in the North. Pyongyang in December had unilaterally shut down the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Consultation Office at the complex located in its border town of Kaesong and restricted traffic in and out of the park to protest Seoul's hard-line policy toward it.
Officials at the Unification Ministry said Yu Jong-ryeol, the office's co-head, traveled with 12 other South Korean officials to Kaesong to work alongside six North Korean counterparts at the office.
Last week, North Korea lifted cross-border traffic restrictions, allowing South Koreans to travel to and from the Kaesong park at levels set prior to the restrictions. As of end of August, 112 small-sized South Korean firms were operating at the park employing more than 40,000 North Koreans.
The office primarily handles administrative affairs for South Korean companies operating at the industrial complex. Paperwork pertaining to the Kaesong park had been exchanged through Chinese officials when the office was shut down.