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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 109 (June 3, 2010)
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

S. Korea to Draw up 'Road Map' for N. Korean Human Rights

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will create its first "road map" for improving human rights conditions in North Korea this year to approach the issue more systematically, a state human rights body said on May 31.

   The National Human Rights Commission said it has recently commissioned a local university to draw up the plan to establish mid- and long-term action plans.

   North Korea is notorious for its abusive treatment of its people. However, it is the first time for Seoul to prepare a policy road map to tackle the issue on a long-term basis and in a systemic way.

   The project worth 100 million won (US$82,440) is expected to be completed by mid-November after six months of work by Kyungnam University in Masan, South Gyeongsang Province, the commission said.

   The report will deal with human rights of North Korean residents, defectors, families living separately from their loved ones after the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korean prisoners of war and abducted citizens held in the North against their will, the rights body said.

   Research will be made through paper studies and interviews with South Korean and foreign experts on human rights in North Korea as well as on-site surveys on defectors, it added.

   Commission officials expect the road map will help give direction to the government's future efforts to improve human rights in the communist country.

   "There so far has been no big-picture approach to the North Korean human rights issue," Lee Yong-geun, chief of the North Korea human rights team at the commission, said. "When the road map is drawn, we'll be able to suggest policies and actions plans that the government can push for, based on the map."

  
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'North Korea Want to Keep Kaesong Complex Running'

  
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Contrary to its threat to shut down a joint factory park on its soil amid rising tension over March's deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, North Korea may want to keep it open, a South Korean government official said on May 31.

   An unidentified North Korean official made the remark on May 30 to a South Korean staffer at a joint commission handling the operation of the factory park in the North's border town of Kaesong, the official said on condition of anonymity.

   The remark represents a softening of Pyongyang's stance on the project as it contrasts with a threat to shut a cross-border route leading to the zone in anger over a series of steps South Korea announced in retaliation to the North's sinking of a southern warship.

   It also appears to reflect the North's concern that the park's closure would leave tens of thousands of its workers there without jobs and the regime without a key source of hard currency that has helped prop up the North's moribund economy.

   The North's threat to shut the border to Kaesong had spurred worries the regime may be trying to close the complex, the last-remaining symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas, which are still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

   But on May 30, the North Korean official said the country would "continue efforts to move the Kaesong industrial complex forward" and accused the South of trying to shut down the complex, according to the ministry official.

   "Responsibility lies with the South in case the Kaesong complex is closed," the North's official was quoted as saying. The official also said that South Korean factories won't be allowed to take their factory equipment out of the complex unless it is broken or on lease.

   The Kaesong project combines cheap North Korean labor with South Korean capital and technology. About 110 South Korean factories employ some 42,000 North Korean workers at the complex. Revenues from the zone have been a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

   The project has long been plagued by political and nuclear disputes. A new wave of tension has hit the zone after North Korea was found to be behind the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors.

   Weary of the zone's vulnerability, a South Korean firm has been working to set up a factory in China that could replace the one at Kaesong.

   "We're establishing a factory in Guangzhou, China, though we don't have an immediate withdrawal of the Kaesong factory in mind," a company official said on condition of anonymity. "We've determined that it would be difficult to further expand" the Kaesong factory.

   The company has recently invited three Chinese technicians for training at its headquarters in South Korea and at the Kaesong factory, the official said. These moves apparently unnerved North Korean officials concerned about their possible pullout.

   The park was set up when reconciliation between the two Koreas boomed following the first-ever summit of the two Koreas in 2000. But their ties were badly damaged as North Korea strongly protested President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line policies on Pyongyang, including his linking of aid to progress in international efforts to end North Korea's nuclear programs.

   While announcing a slew of steps to punish the North last week, Seoul kept the Kaesong complex alive, though it said the number of South Korean workers there will be cut. Other measures included halting trade with North Korea and banning North Korean commercial ships from using South Korean waters as a shortcut.

   These measures are expected to hit the North's tattered economy hard, leaving the communist neighbor with an estimated annual loss of about US$260-300 million in lost revenues in trade, lost jobs and increased shipping costs, a senior South Korean official said on condition of anonymity.

   South Korean managers at the Kaesong complex have also noticed uneasiness among their North Korean employees, who think that tensions might cost them their jobs, causing them to work harder, another official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

   "Company officials said that they've found North Korean workers trying to work harder with more serious attitudes than before, probably because they hope the Kaesong Industrial Complex will keep going," the official said.

  (END)