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Parties spar over North Korean human rights bill

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- Rival political parties wrangled Wednesday over the details of a North Korean human rights bill both sides have called for, highlighting the differences in their aims.

Talks on the bill gained pace after head of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), Kim Han-gil, vowed last week to push for legislation promoting the human rights and livelihoods of North Koreans.

The ruling Saenuri Party welcomed the move, saying it has demanded the passage of a North Korean human rights bill since 2005.

On Wednesday, ruling-party deputy floor leader Yoon Sang-hyun told a meeting of the party's Supreme Council members and senior lawmakers that the rival parties agreed to pass the bill during an extraordinary session of the National Assembly next month.

"The key point of the North Korean human rights act will be to call on the government to support private organizations working to improve the human rights situation in North Korea," he said.

The DP, however, denied Yoon's remarks, saying they had only agreed to discuss the bill during the upcoming parliamentary session.

The two parties have each submitted five bills since 2005, calling for measures to improve the lives of North Koreans.

"The Saenuri Party's proposals have mainly called for recording the human rights situation in North Korea, supporting human rights activities, and lending help to groups that aid North Korean defectors, while the DP's proposals have focused on supporting South-North cooperation and providing humanitarian aid," Jung Sung-ho, the deputy floor leader of the opposition party, said in a press briefing.

The opposition party's stance reflects concerns that a hard-line approach to the North Korean human rights situation could anger Pyongyang and worsen the two countries' relations.

North Korea is accused of serious human rights abuses, such as holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in concentration camps, committing torture and carrying out public executions.

Last month, North Korea executed Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle and regent of leader Kim Jong-un, for treason.

Pyongyang has flatly denied the accusations of human rights abuse, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

The U.S. and Japan, meanwhile, adopted legislation on North Korea's human rights situation in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

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