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S. Korea to Increase Diplomatic Pressure on N. Korea over Human Rights Issues

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to increase diplomatic pressure on North Korea over human rights issues, including the case of three people from the South believed to have been held in the socialist nation for decades, a senior official said on June 1.

   The move could further exacerbate the already frayed relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

   An immediate focus of the campaign is expected to be on the case of Shin Suk-ja and her two daughters who are believed to have been held in the North since 1987, a year after her husband, Oh Kil-nam, fled the socialist nation.

   Oh claims his family was lured to the North in 1985 via West Germany where he was studying.

   But a senior North Korean diplomat told a U.N. group last month that Shin had died of hepatitis and the two daughters do not regard Oh as their father since "he abandoned his family and drove their mother to death."

   "The situation is that we can no longer turn a blind eye to human rights problems in North Korea, including the case of Ms. Shin, political prison camps" and others, a senior presidential official said. "The government will mobilize all diplomatic channels possible for this."

   On May 30, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called for greater international attention to the Shin case as he met with Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf. Sweden's deputy foreign minister, who was present at the meeting, promised to cooperate actively with Seoul's efforts.

   "Though it is difficult to have direct talks with North Korea, we're trying to have contact with various channels," such as the U.N. General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the European Union, Sweden and other nations that can talk to Pyongyang, the official said.

   North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps a tight control over outside information.

   But Pyongyang has long bristled at any talk of its human rights records, denouncing it as part of U.S.-led attempts to topple the regime.

   Relations between the two Koreas worsened seriously after President Lee took office in early 2008 as North Korea protested strongly to his policy of linking aid to progress in international efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

   The ties plunged further after the North's two deadly attacks on the South in 2010.


Lee Says National Security Remains Top Concern Despite Global Economic Crisis

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told top military commanders on June 4 to cooperate more closely so as to be more effective in deterring North Korean provocations as Pyongyang escalated its military threats against the South.

   Lee made the remark during lunch with Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and dozens of top generals, saying national security remains a key concern for South Korea despite the global financial crisis.

   "We are in a unique situation where we cannot be negligent on national security while preoccupied with the economy," he said, telling generals to cooperate with each other more closely so as to "overpower" the enemy, according to presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha.

   The JCS chairman said the military will first try to deter provocations, and will sternly punish the enemy if it pushes ahead with such actions, according to the spokesman.

   Earlier in the day, the General Staff of the North's Korean People's Army (KPA) threatened to strike major media firms in Seoul, accusing them of insulting Pyongyang's new leader Kim Jong-un and mentioning the map coordinates of their headquarters.

   It was the first time the North has released coordinates of intended targets in South Korea.

   The North warned the South to apologize or face "a merciless sacred war."

   Relations between the two Koreas worsened seriously after Lee took office in early 2008 as North Korea protested strongly to his policy of linking aid to progress in international efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

   The relationship plunged further after the North made two deadly attacks on the South in 2010.


President Lee Criticizes Pro-N. Korean Sympathizers in Memorial Day Speech

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said on June 6 South Korea won't tolerate anyone attempting to shake the country's founding principle of liberal democracy as criticism has mounted over left-leaning lawmakers accused of sympathizing with the socialist North.

   In a Memorial Day address, Lee also urged North Korea to follow in the footsteps of Myanmar and open up to the outside world with democratic reforms, while at the same time warning the regime in Pyongyang of "strict punishment" for any provocations.

   "Upholding the will of all fallen heroes who devoted themselves to defending liberal democracy, the people of the Republic of Korea will never tolerate anyone attempting to negate liberal democracy," Lee said in the speech at the National Cemetery.

   "In addition, with an impregnable security posture, we will safeguard peace on the Korean Peninsula and punish any provocation in a strict manner," he said.

   Criticism of pro-North Korean sympathizers has risen sharply in South Korea in recent months after some newly elected lawmakers of a minor opposition party displayed strong leanings to the communist nation and reluctance to criticize the autocratic regime.

   In May, Lee urged pro-North Korea groups to wake up to reality and stop blindly accepting any nonsense assertions Pyongyang makes. It was the first time he has openly criticized those sympathetic to Pyongyang by using the word, "jongbuk," which means "blindly following the North."

   "The president is the last bulwark safeguarding the constitutional order," a key presidential secretary said. "President Lee actually takes the current situation fairly seriously, where forces negating liberal democracy are gaining influence."

   The official stressed that such calls for defending liberal democracy, which South Korea has established from the ashes of the Korean War, should not be seen as unfair ideological or political offensives.

   Lee also urged Pyongyang to learn from Myanmar and end its isolation.

   Last month, Lee traveled to the Southeast Asian nation as the first South Korean president to visit the country in 29 years since the North's 1983 terrorist bombing ripped through a Yangon mausoleum.

   "Recently, a wind of liberalization, reform and opening has been sweeping the whole world," Lee said. "The wind, which now blows toward Asia through North Africa after originating in Eastern Europe, constitutes a historic trend against which no one can stand."

   Relations between the two Koreas worsened seriously after Lee took office in early 2008 as North Korea protested strongly to his policy of linking aid to progress in international efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.