NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 72 (September 17, 2009) |
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS
South and North Koreas Sign Wage Accord on Joint Park
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed to a 5 percent wage hike at a joint industrial park on Sept. 16, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said, in the latest sign of inter-Korean projects returning to normal.
North Korea earlier demanded a 400 percent raise in monthly wages for its workers at the South Korean-run park in Kaesong, just north of the border.
South Korea's management office in Kaesong "signed an agreement on a 5 percent wage increase" with its North Korean counterpart, ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a brief statement.
The North voluntarily withdrew its earlier demand last week in a striking shift from its unyielding attitude in four rounds of negotiations from April to July. The demand called for monthly wages be raised to US$300 from the average $70-80, apparently in retaliation against Seoul's hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.
The Kaesong park opened in late 2004 as an outcome of the first inter-Korean summit four years earlier. It houses 114 mostly small-sized South Korean firms producing clothing, electronic equipment, kitchenware and other labor-intensive goods with about 40,000 North Korean workers.
The venture is seen as a much-needed source of dollar income for the North, which is currently under U.N. sanctions for its May nuclear test that bans cash flows to the country.
The 5 percent rate hike will increase the minimum wage to about $58 from the current $55.
Separately, North Korea was conducting a door-to-door survey on South Korean businesses at the joint park, said ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo.
North Korea asserted that the two-day survey that continues until Sept. 17 was to examine the firms' output and "listen to their complaints and difficulties regarding tax and accounting," Lee said. Such on-site surveys have been done sporadically, she added.
The agreement came after a new chill hit inter-Korean relations this week with the deaths of six South Koreans who were swept away by North Korean dam water discharged without notice in the predawn hours of Sept. 6. Seoul has concluded that the North's unannounced release of dam water contravened international customary law, which states a country's use of its own territory should not infringe on other countries' rights and interests.
First Joint University of Two Koreas Built in Pyongyang
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea held a ceremony on Sept. 16 marking the completion of a science university jointly built with donations from the South, the North's media reported.
The North's Korea Central News Agency reported the ceremony was held at the campus of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in the North Korean capital city after seven years of construction.
Jon Kuk-man, North Korea's vice minister of education, and other education officials attended the event. The South Korean delegation participating in the ceremony included an aide to President Lee Myung-bak. The rest were people from a religious foundation.
The university was built with donations collected over the years from the South to help train young North Koreans in advanced technology and boost inter-Korean reconciliation. But it is still unclear when the school will open, with South Korea withholding faculty exchanges and shipments of computers amid the diplomatic stalemate over the North's nuclear drive.
Construction started in 2002 on 1 million square meters of land in the North Korean capital. The campus currently has 17 buildings housing the school headquarters, lecture halls, a dormitory, a research and development center, and so on.
The university will start with 150 students majoring in information-communications engineering; agricultural, life and food engineering; and industrial management, according to South Korean promoters of the university.
Kim Chin-kyung was named founding president of the university during the ceremony. Kim, a South Korean-born American citizen, concurrently serves as president of the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in the Korean autonomous prefecture of Yanbian, northeastern China. Some 100 foreign sponsors of the university from such countries as the U.S., Canada, China and Australia were also present at the ceremony.
The 20-member South Korean delegation led by Kwak Seon-hee, head of the Seoul-based Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture, was to return on Sept. 17, wrapping up a three-day visit to the North. It marked the first non-humanitarian North Korea trip by South Korean civilians since the North carried out its second nuclear test in May. South Korea has so far permitted only relief workers to visit North Korea amid high tension on the Korean Peninsula.
Koreas Exchange Lists of Surviving Relatives for Family Reunions
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea exchanged the results of their search for families separated by the border on Sept. 15, ahead of their upcoming reunions that are the first to be held in nearly two years.
A new round of family reunions, agreed upon at the inter-Korean talks last month, will be held at the scenic Mt. Kumgang resort on the North's east coast from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, shortly before the traditional Korean holiday of Chuseok. The humanitarian project was suspended in late 2007 as Pyongyang boycotted inter-Korean dialogue.
"South and North Korea exchanged the results of their search to locate the relatives and find out whether they are alive," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a press briefing.
In the list of 200 applicants exchanged Sept. 1, the South located surviving relatives for 159 North Koreans, totaling 1,388 relatives, said the Red Cross office in Seoul, which arranges the reunions with its North Korean counterpart. The North located 709 relatives for 143 South Korean applicants, it said. The final lists of 100 people will be exchanged on Sept. 17.
About 600,000 people in the South are believed to have relatives in the North, from whom they have been separated since the 1950-53 Korean War. Applicants here are first selected through a computer lottery, and the final list is determined according to age and those with surviving immediate family members.
The upcoming reunions, as customary, are expected to include South Korean prisoners of war or fishermen who were allegedly forced to stay in the North after their boats strayed over the maritime border in the Cold War era. The number of such applicants for this round was not yet known.
Pyongyang officially denies holding any South Koreans against their will, but has usually included several of them in previous reunions.
Family reunions, arranged by Red Cross offices on both sides, were launched in 2000 as an outcome of the historic first inter-Korean summit that year. North Korea agreed to resume the event at Red Cross talks last month in one of the latest signs that it is shifting toward a reconciliatory stance with the South.
South Korea, meanwhile, was demanding an apology over a deadly flood unleashed by the North on Sept. 6. North Korea has said that rising water levels at a dam caused an "emergency" that forced it to discharge the water. The floodwaters killed six people who were camping along riverbanks in the South.