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Gov't to form 'neutral' commission for river project probe

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, Aug. 16 (Yonhap) -- The government said Friday it plans to set up a commission to investigate the highly controversial project to refurbish the country's four major rivers that would only include experts neutral on the topic.

As a trademark of the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, the mega project costing 22 trillion won (US$19.7 billion) is aimed at helping prevent floods and promoting tourism along the country's four major rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Kum and Yeongsan.

The project, however, has long drawn criticism from the opposition party and civic activists for allegedly causing irreversible environmental damage and other suspected irregularities during the course of its construction.

In a move to resolve suspicions and seek ways to better manage the facilities, the government in May decided to launch a commission of civilian experts who would be tasked with conducting a fact-finding survey and assessing the project.

But there have been differences between the government and the opposition side over how to select the chief of the commission and its members.

"The government has finally decided to launch the entity that involves only neutral figures, as the opposition side refused to take part in it to oppose of the government's proposal," the Prime Minister's Secretariat said in a press release.

The opposition parties and environmentalists had demanded the government choose more than half of the members and a commission chief from their side, rather than the government's earlier proposal of having a neutral figure for the head position and four experts from each side along with 12 neutral specialists.

In response, the government proposed a modified version that entails the commission having an increased number of experts recommended by the opposition side, with the chief being elected from among them.

But the opposition side refused to accept the proposal and launched their own probe team earlier this month.

"We will appoint only neutral members based upon the recommendations of relevant public and private entities so as to reflect diverse opinions. The commission will have the authority to decide upon their scope of the investigation," the Prime Minister's Secretariat said.

The decision about their neutrality will be based upon diverse criteria, including their theses, media contributions and other personal track records related to the four-rivers project.

"The commission will be launched as soon as possible, and we aim to complete the duties in a swift fashion," it added.

In May, the main opposition Democratic Party launched a fact-finding committee to look into alleged irregularities surrounding the project.

The prosecution, for its part, has launched an investigation into allegations that several local builders colluded to win a bid for the project.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/yonhap-news-agency/130816/govt-form-neutral-commission-river-project-probe