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2009/09/24 10:43 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 73 (September 24, 2009)

  
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

South Korea Sends Advance Team to North Korea for Family Reunions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- An advance team from Seoul traveled to North Korea on Sept. 21 to prepare for upcoming reunions of families separated by the Korean War, the first in nearly two years.

   Two hundred people will be reunited with long-lost relatives from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's east coast. Pyongyang agreed last month to the reunions, which have not been held since late 2007, in what was part of a string of reconciliatory moves.

   The 10-member advance team comprised of South Korean Red Cross and government officials "is going to check through detailed schedules, reunion places and accommodations, as well as communication channels and other facilities with the North," Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry, said Sept. 21 in a press briefing.

   Arranged by the Red Cross offices of the two countries, North-South family reunions were launched in 2000 following the historic first inter-Korean summit that year. They were cut off after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office last year pledging to get tough on the North's nuclear program -- a stance that led to the deterioration of cross-border ties.

   Two separate, back-to-back events will be held at the scenic mountain resort, first reuniting 100 South Korean families with their North Korean relatives for three days, and then 100 North Koreans with their relatives from the South. The lists of the names of the participants were exchanged last week.

   South Korean Red Cross President Yoo Chong-ha will travel to the North with the South Korean families, his office said, and a meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Jang Jae-on, is expected.

   About 600,000 people in the South are believed to have kin in the North from whom they have been separated since the 1950-53 war. Candidates were first selected through a computer lottery, with the final lists being drawn from applicants whose relatives were located, giving priority to immediate family members and the elderly.

  
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South Korea to Build Nursery at Joint Industrial Park in North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will build a nursery at a joint industrial park in the North, a project long demanded by North Korea to help the tens of thousands of its women who work there.

   The Koreas have unanimously agreed on the need to build a daycare center for the children of female employees at the joint park in Kaesong, just north of the border, but construction was put off due to deteriorating political relations.

   The South Korean government "will begin construction with the aim of ensuring completion by the end of this year," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said Sept. 22. The two Koreas signed an agreement on the project Sept. 23.

   The joint park hosts 114 South Korean firms operating with about 40,000 North Korean employees. Female workers make up 85 percent of the workers, and they are mostly in their 20s and 30s, according to ministry data. The nursery will accommodate up to 200 children, Chun said.

   The construction comes as a response to a series of conciliatory moves by Pyongyang to normalize joint business ventures. Earlier this month, the North withdrew its earlier demand for hefty wage hikes for local workers at the Kaesong park and settled on a 5-percent increase.

   Chun did not say whether the North's softening policy was behind Seoul's decision on the nursery, asserting the government considered its "humanitarian aspect" and the expected "boon to productivity."

   The estimated construction cost of some 900 million won (US$747,633) will be covered by the ministry's budget, and operational costs such as electricity and food will be shared between the North Korean government and South Korean employers, he added.

   The scale of the nursery will be insufficient, but businesses operating in Kaesong hailed the decision as a first step. Mothers previously had to leave their children at home or at a poorly equipped North Korea-run facility, which they believe has impeded worker productivity.

   "North Korean workers will really like it. A nursery will be of great help to the women who still have to breastfeed their babies," said Lee Im-dong, a director at the Kaesong Business Council that represents South Korean firms at the park.

  
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Unification Minister Reveals Three Principles of Humanitarian Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Sept. 22 the South Korean government will consistently push for humanitarian assistance to North Korea to improve the quality of life for North Koreans in need.

   Disclosing three principles of aid to the impoverished North, the minister said the government will go ahead with the assistance under the principle of brotherly and humanitarian aspects. He said the government will give preferential aid to people like infants, babies and pregnant women.

   Hyun also said the government will reinforce its efforts to secure transparency in the North's distribution of aid materials provided by the South.

   The minister made the remarks at Yonsei University in Seoul while delivering a congratulatory speech to a civilian body just inaugurated to help North Koreans. Called "Sharing Together," the movement is sponsored by the civilian organization Korea Peace Foundation.

   Referring to the incessant push for humanitarian aid, Hyun said it shows the government's consistent policy for humanitarian aid, regardless of the political situation.

   Regarding transparency in distribution, Hyun said it is the government's right and duty to monitor how the materials sent to the North are delivered to needy people.

   Hyun said North Koreans, particularly children, are vulnerable to diseases under chronic economic difficulties and poor environments.

   The South Korean government suspended direct food and fertilizer aid to North Korea following the inauguration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak early last year, but allows private aid groups to carry out humanitarian projects on a selective basis.

   On Sept. 22, a group of private aid groups urged the government to fully reopen the door for humanitarian assistance to North Korea, arguing that Seoul should not withhold private contributions as a means of leverage to pressure Pyongyang.
Seoul officials have cited international sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile activity and the protracted stalemate in inter-Korean relations as reasons for maintaining restrictions on aid shipments to the North.

   Last month, South Korea authorized 3.57 billion won (US$29.9 million) worth of state funding for 10 aid organizations dedicated to North Korea, but funding shrank considerably from last year, when the ministry spent more than 10 billion won for 40 aid groups.

  (END)