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N. Korea Proposes Joint Event to Mark 2000 Declaration Anniversary

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has proposed holding a joint event with South Korea to mark the 2000 signing of a landmark inter-Korean declaration, a civic organization here said on May 23.

   June 15 is the 13th anniversary of the signing of the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration between liberal-minded late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The landmark declaration laid out a reconciliatory mode for the Korean Peninsula, pledging the two countries to jointly promote reunification and other economic and cultural cooperation.

   The organization said North Korea's body in charge of pushing for the implementation of the five-point reconciliatory agreement sent the proposal by fax.

   The North proposed Mount Kumgang or the city of Kaesong as likely venues for the joint ceremony, saying "The only way to recover North-South relations and open the gate for autonomous reunification lie in the (efforts) to implement the joint declaration," according to the South Korean group.

   The South Korean civic group, at a meeting later in the day, decided that holding a ceremony in Kaesong would be more adequate given the temporarily closed inter-Korean industrial site there that South Korea is trying to reopen, company officials said.

   The Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North's border city of Kaesong remains shut down since early April when the North withdrew all of its workers in protest against Seoul's joint military exercises with Washington.

   Seoul-Pyongyang relations have been strained ever since the North's third nuclear test in February, which prompted the U.N. Security Council to pass a punitive sanctions resolution against the socialist state.

   "One of the reasons behind the North's proposal for Kaesong as a site of the event may be its hope to resume the Kaesong Industrial Complex," an official at the South civil group said.

   An official at the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the government will make a decision on the proposal after considering the overall conditions of inter-Korean relations.

   The Koreas had annually held joint events marking the agreement before suspending them in 2009 under the hard-line stance of former President Lee Myung-bak.

   The North has consistently demanded that the South abide by the reconciliatory agreement while restrained inter-Korean relations led to the suspension of their trade and other exchange.


South Korea again Asks North Korea to Repay Food Loans

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea again called on North Korea on May 24 to repay millions of dollars in loans provided in the form of food since 2000, the Unification Ministry said.

   The impoverished North missed the June 7, 2012 deadline to repay South Korea US$5.83 million in the first installment of the $724 million food loan extended to the North in rice and corn. The latest call is the South's fifth demand made on the North to repay its debt.

   Seoul's state-run Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) sent a message on May 23 to Pyongyang's Foreign Trade Bank, calling for the repayment, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said in a briefing.

   The South Korean bank also sent another message the same day, notifying the North of its forthcoming June 7th deadline to repay the second installment of $5.78 million, the spokesman said.

   "North Korea should faithfully abide by what they previously agreed to with the South," Kim said, calling for the repayment of food loans.

   Amid a conciliatory mode under the liberal-minded late President Kim Dae-jung, Seoul started to provide food loans to the famine-ridden country, providing a total of 2.4 million tons of rice and 200,000 tons of corn from 2000-2007.

   Under the deal, the North is required to pay back a total of $875.32 million by 2037.


South Korea Not Moving to Ease, Lift Sanctions on North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is not considering easing or lifting sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after the sinking of one of the South's warships in 2010 that effectively put the kibosh on most cross-border exchanges, official sources said on May 24.

   Seoul announced the so-called May 24 measures after a two-month-long probe that accused Pyongyang of sinking the Cheonan in waters near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea on March 26, 2010. Pyongyang has denied the accusations.

   The government has maintained that since the North instigated the provocation that left 46 sailors dead, it is responsible for coming up with measures that will prevent a repeat of such an attack.

   "The sanctions are aimed at making clear to the North that they will be made to pay for provocations and was taken because Seoul had no other choice," said unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk.

   "In the spirit of correcting the wrong they committed, the socialist country must make the first move (to show remorse) that can be accepted by the South Korean public," he said in a news conference, making clear that the South will not take the initiative on this matter under current circumstances.

   Seoul's stance comes as inter-Korean relations took a turn for the worse after North Korea pulled out all of its 53,000 workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex that resulted in the temporary shutdown of the cooperative venture in the North. Tensions have been fueled further by the North detonating its third nuclear device in February.

   Under the sanctions, Seoul banned all North Korean ships from entering South Korean waters, halted all cross-border trade and barred visits by South Korean nationals to the North. The restrictions also stopped new investments and assistance programs with the North. However, it did not call for the shutting down of the Kaesong complex.

   In addition to standing firm on sanctions, Kim said that Seoul will decide whether or not to permit South Koreans to visit the North to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the signing of the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration in 2000 that opened an era of rapprochement between the two countries.

   "The government will examine the situation with a comprehensive perspective of the present situation," he said. He pointed out that the South Korean committee for the joint implementation of the June 15 summit declaration, which received the invitation from the North, has not submitted a request to visit the neighboring country.

   On this issue, a government official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said earlier in the week that Seoul had not permitted joint celebrations for the past five years because of unfavorable inter-Korean relations, hinting that policymakers will probably not grant permission this year.

   "The latest invitation, along with rumors that the North's National Economic Cooperation Federation may have invited South Korean businessmen with factories in Kaesong can all be seen as an attempt to split public opinion in the South," he said.

   The unification ministry in charge of inter-Korean ties then said that while it wanted to help the plight of the 123 South Korean companies that were forced to halt operations at Kaesong last month, there was little it could do at present.

   It has steadfastly insisted that the North come to working level official discussions to permit South Koreans to cross over to the North safely, and the return of raw production materials and finished goods left behind at Kaesong. Local businessmen plan to try again to visit Kaesong to see their facilities on May 30.

   North Korea, meanwhile, attacked the Park administration for maintaining sanctions and other confrontational policies imposed by the previous government.

   State media outlets such as the Korean Central Television and Radio Pyongyang accused Seoul of not only sticking to anti-DPRK (North Korea) measures introduced by the Lee Myung-bak government but actually becoming more vicious in its posture.

   The two broadcasters also said that while there have been calls within South Korea for the lifting of sanctions, the incumbent government, citing the need for the North to formally apologize for the sinking, rejected such moves. They said this showed the true "confrontational nature" of the Park administration.

   Related to the Park Geun-hye administration's "hard-line" position on sanctions, political analysts said that initially there were signs the new president may have considered easing sanctions in an attempt to build trust between the two countries. They said that the testing of a nuclear device and closing down of Kaesong has made it hard for the new chief executive to actively seek engagement.

   The suspension of the Kaesong factory park, which accounted for over 99 percent of South-North trade, has caused economic cooperation to drop to the mid-1990s level, while international sanctions imposed by the United Nations is making it hard for Seoul to take lenient policy measures.