22 August 2009

S Korean minister meets Northern envoy

By Park Chan-Kyong
August 22, 2009

(SMH) -North Korean envoys sent to attend the funeral of former South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung have called for an immediate improvement in inter-Korean ties and talks with the country's president, media pool reports say.

"The North Koreans said they were carrying a message from (North Korea's leader) Chairman Kim Jong-il," an unidentified government official was quoted as telling Yonhap news agency on Saturday.

Their wish to meet with President Lee Myung-bak was conveyed to South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Saturday. Hyun was talking to the president's office about the offer, the official said.

"While meeting many South Koreans here, I came to believe that inter-Korean ties must be improved at the earliest possible date," Kim Yang-gon, a North Korean official in charge of inter-Korean ties, told Hyun.

"We've had little opportunity to talk ... I hope that these first high-level official talks under the (South Korean conservative president) Lee Myung-bak administration will provide a chance to have frank talks," he said.

Kim is one of a six-member North Korean delegation making a rare visit south of the border to pay tribute to former leader Kim Dae-jung, who died on Tuesday at the age of 85.

A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kim Dae-jung held the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, during his 1998-2003 presidency.

After the 90-minute talks, Hyun said the North Koreans might postpone their departure for home, sparking speculation that they will meet Lee.

The rare encounter raised hopes for a breakthrough amid tension on the Korean peninsula that rose after the North's second nuclear test three months ago.

Chung Dong-young, a former unification minister, urged the government to seize the opportunity to mend inter-Korean ties, which have soured since conservative President Lee took power in February 2008.

"Even after his death, President Kim Dae-jung is laying a bridge over troubled inter-Korean ties," Chung said. "I hope the South Korean government can use this opportunity to mend the South-North relationship."

Kim Dae-jung pioneered South Korea's "Sunshine" aid and engagement policy with the North, which improved relations but failed to curb the North's drive for nuclear weapons.

Cross-border and regional tensions rose sharply in recent months after the North made a series of threats, fired missiles and staged a second nuclear test, incurring tougher United Nations sanctions.

After they arrived in Seoul on Friday the North Koreans said they were open to dialogue.

"I will meet with everybody. Let's meet to talk," delegation leader Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the ruling communist party, said after arriving at Gimpo airport.

The North's first dispatch of envoys to Seoul in nearly two years is the latest in a series of peace initiatives by Pyongyang.

Earlier this month former US president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang to plead for the release of two US journalists who were sentenced to 12 years' hard labour for straying across the border from China.

The North's leader, Kim Jong-il, pardoned the two American journalists and Pyongyang later freed a detained South Korean.

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05 August 2009

N Korea to pardon journalists

(news.com.au) -NORTH Korea will pardon two jailed US journalists after visiting former president Bill Clinton apologised to leader Kim Jong-Il for their behaviour, state media has reported.

"The measure taken to release the American journalists is a manifestation of the DPRK's (North Korea's) humanitarian and peace-loving policy," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported today.

Mr Clinton yesterday had met Mr Kim for talks during his surprise mission to Pyongyang to win the release of the two female reporters. His was the highest-profile visit by an American to Pyongyang for nearly a decade.

TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested in March while on assignment near the North Korean border with China.

They were reporting on the plight of refugees fleeing the impoverished North into China. A court in June sentenced them to 12 years of hard labour for illegal entry and other offences.

The harsh sentences soured relations with the United States already strained by the North's atomic test in May, its multiple missile tests and its decision to quit six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

"Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong-Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it," KCNA reported.

"Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong-Il an earnest request of the US government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view," it said.

After Mr Kim issued a special order pardoning the pair, Mr Clinton "courteously conveyed a verbal message of US President Barack Obama expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries".

KCNA said Mr Clinton's meetings with leader Mr Kim and with his official number two Kim Yong-Nam featured "candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK and the US in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them".

It said the former president's visit "will contribute to deepening the understanding between the DPRK and the US and building the bilateral confidence".

The agency did not indicate when the women would be freed but said Mr Clinton's visit would end today.

The White House said Mr Clinton's visit was purely private and declined to comment on it.

From correspondents in Seoul
Agence France-Presse

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03 August 2009

Bush Urges Unified Action Against North Korea

By VOA News

Former U.S. President George W. Bush has urged the five nations involved in nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea to send a clear message to Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Bush spoke at an economic forum on the South Korean island of Jeju Saturday. He said the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia must make it clear that North Korea will face consequences if it continues to defy United Nations resolutions.

The former U.S. president also stressed the importance of transparency and verification in the nuclear disarmament process.

The last round of six-party disarmament talks in China in December ended with an impasse over how the North's denuclearization would be verified. Since then, Pyongyang has conducted a nuclear test and a series of missile launches. Its provocative actions against South Korea have raised international concern about the region's stability.

The United Nations imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea in June.

The United States is taking steps to ensure the sanctions are implemented. It has frozen the assets of a number of business and financial institution dealing with North Korea. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said Friday the U.S. is also considering returning the North to its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Washington has offered the North a comprehensive package of incentives if it takes serious and irreversible steps to end its nuclear program.

Mr. Bush is in South Korea for a series of talks on the global economy. He is expected to promote measures against trade protectionism and the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. The agreement was signed in 2007 while he was in office, but has yet to be approved by lawmakers in both countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.
August 1st, 2009

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N Korea Says S. Korean Boat Illegally Entered Its Waters

By VOA News

North Korea said Saturday that a South Korean fishing boat it seized Thursday had entered its territorial waters illegally.

In its first official statement, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said a "relevant institution is conducting a concrete investigation" into the incident.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said Friday the fishing boat and its four man crew drifted into the North's territorial waters after it apparently experienced problems with its satellite navigation system. The boat was intercepted by a North Korean patrol boat and towed to the eastern port of Jangjon early Thursday.

Seoul is urging Pyongyang to release the boat and its crew. A spokesman for the Unification Ministry said Thursday there is a clear precedent for the boat's return, citing South Korea's return of two North Korean boats on humanitarian grounds after they crossed into Southern waters.

A spokesman for the South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Park Sung-woo, said the fishing boat is relatively small, and made of reinforced plastic. He said that made it difficult for radar to detect the vessel before it crossed into North Korean waters.

Thursday's incident took place in waters west of the Korean peninsula - one of the tensest maritime regions in the world.

North Korea has never accepted a United Nations-mandated border there, and the two Koreas have fought two deadly naval battles in the area over the past 10 years.

North Korea is also holding two U.S. journalists and a South Korean worker at the Kaesong joint industrial plan across the border. Many in South Korea believe Pyongyang is trying to use the detainees as diplomatic leverage.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
August 1st, 2009

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