NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 309 (April 17, 2014)

INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Gov't launches land survey for DMZ peace park

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite renewed inter-Korean tension, South Korea has started preparatory work for building a peace park inside the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), officials said on April 16.

As part of efforts to boost inter-Korean ties, President Park Geun-hye proposed that the two Koreas build an international park inside the last-remaining Cold War frontier. For the outreach project to Pyongyang, Seoul set aside 40.2 billion won (US$38.4 million) in this year's budget.

Members of the task force team at Seoul's Ministry of Unification visited three candidate cities -- Paju in Gyeonggi Province, and Cheorwon and Goseong in Gangwon Province -- several times in February and March for field investigations.

During the visits there, they met local officials and were briefed on the overall circumstances of each region and received cadastral data to review, according to officials of relevant agencies.

The candidate towns along the border are well-known for DMZ tours.

After additional field surveys and necessary reviews, the Seoul government is scheduled to unveil its blueprint "soon," according to the officials.

"We've gotten prepared to establish the peace park, and some progress has been made," a ministry official said.

"But the government has yet to decide on when to announce the plan due mainly to sour inter-Korean relations," the official said, adding the key is "to create circumstances good enough for us to make an official proposal about the project to the North."

In her speech in the former East German city of Dresden in March, President Park once again expressed her hope to build the park inside the DMZ, saying it will "presage the replacement of tension with peace on the DMZ, division with unification and conflict in Northeast Asia with harmony."

But the North flatly rejected her package of initiatives, calling it "irrelevant and nonsensical," and has taken a series of provocative acts, including firing missiles into the sea and threatening nuclear war.

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Eximbank opens center to study inter-Korean economic development

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea said on April 16 it has opened a center to study inter-Korean economic development and integration to support the government policy on national unification.

The Eximbank said the center will study issues related to North Korean economic development and provide its views on North Korea policy. It will also research ways to revive inter-Korean economic cooperation and help the North serve as a member of the international community, the bank said.

Eximbank is entrusted by the government to operate the inter-Korean cooperation fund and the economic development cooperation fund.

The new center will conduct studies on cutting costs of unification and help establish specific action plans for development projects by using its experience in operating the state funds, the bank said.

Bank of Korea Gov. Lee Ju-yeol said last week that the central bank is also considering setting up a team to deal with currency and economic integration related to inter-Korean unification.

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S. Korea voices regret over detained missionary in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea expressed regret to North Korea on April 15 for detaining a South Korean Christian missionary for more than six months without granting him access to an attorney and his family.

Kim Jong-uk has been held in the communist country since Oct. 8 when he was arrested on charges of spying for the National Intelligence Service, South Korea's top spy agency.

Kim confessed to committing anti-state crimes and appealed for mercy during his first news conference in Pyongyang in February.

He also said he was trying to set up a "head office of the dissident underground church network" in Pyongyang to help eventually topple the North, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported in February.

"It is regrettable for the North not to meet our demand that North Korea grant him access to an attorney and his family, and release and repatriate him," an official of South Korea's unification ministry said.

The comment came hours after Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's Internet-based propaganda website, reported that Kim had received money from the NIS for his campaign to build underground churches in the North.

"It is not a secret among South Korean missionaries in the Chinese city of Dandong that I worked for the NIS while conducting missionary work in Dandong," Uriminzokkiri quoted Kim as saying in an interview by Radio Pyongyang, the North's state-run media, on April 14.

Kim said he met with several South Korean intelligence officials in Seoul and Dandong, and said it is "very irresponsible" for the NIS to deny the meetings.

The NIS dismissed the Uriminzokkiri's report on Kim as groundless.

"We have nothing to do with" Kim, an official of the NIS said. He asked not to be identified, citing policy.

Kim also told Radio Pyongyang that he had trained 33 North Koreans about underground churches, and the North withheld his identity until after it confirmed which North Koreans Kim had trained.

In March, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported that dozens of residents in Pyongyang believed to have been involved in Kim's case disappeared, citing an unnamed source in Sinuiju, a northwestern North Korean city bordering the Chinese city of Dandong.

Separately, Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, has been held in the North since November 2012 when he was arrested while leading a group of tourists. He was accused of unspecified anti-state crimes and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

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S. Korea vows to push ahead with unification initiative

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea pledged on April 14 to push ahead with President Park Geun-hye's unification initiative toward North Korea, despite Pyongyang's clear rejection of it.

Park called for, among other things, bolstering exchanges with the North as first steps toward building trust between the sides to lay the groundwork for unification of the two Koreas. She unveiled the proposals, called the Dresden Declaration, during her trip to the former East German city of Dresden in March.

"We will demonstrate our sincerity of the Dresden Declaration through our actions," unification ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do told reporters.

He also said South Korea will make internal preparations to carry out the declaration, though he did not elaborate.

His comments came two days after the North's powerful National Defense Commission dismissed Park's declaration as "irrelevant and nonsensical."

The commission also claimed Park's policy on unification with North Korea was designed to hurt the ideology and socialist system of the North.

The Koreas have been divided for six decades following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

South Korea said unification would provide the Korean people with a springboard to prosperity by marrying South Korea's capital and technology with North Korea's rich natural resources.

Still, the communist country has long suspected that Seoul could be plotting to absorb Pyongyang.

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N. Korea warns S. Korea will pay dear price for slander

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on April 14that it will force South Korea to pay a dear price for its criticism of the North's dignity, the latest in a series of verbal threats against the South.

The rival Koreas agreed in February to halt cross-border slander during their first high-level talks in seven years.

Still, the North has since claimed South Korea hurled mud at the North's leadership and its social system with the communist country citing, among other things, anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

For years, North Korean defectors in the South and conservative activists have flown the leaflets to the North via balloons to help encourage North Koreans to eventually rise up against the Pyongyang regime.

The North's military and people will force South Korea to "pay a dear price for insulting our dignity and system," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in comments carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

The committee did not elaborate on what it meant by a dear price.

The North has made several military threats against the South over the leaflets in recent years. The North has also repeatedly pressed South Korea to stop its activists from sending the leaflets.

South Korea has said there are no legal grounds to prevent activists from sending the leaflets, citing freedom of expression.

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S. Korea repatriates body of sailor to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea handed over to North Korea the body of a man found dead off South Korea's southern coast where a Mongolian cargo ship carrying North Korean sailors sank earlier this month, an official said on April 14.

The repatriation took place at the border village of Panmunjom inside a military buffer zone that separates the two Koreas, according to the government official.

The move came three days after North Korea confirmed the man's identity. On April 11, South Korea asked North Korea to help identify the man by sending photos of the body through a dialogue channel at Panmunjom.

South Korea also informed the North on April 11 that it had ended the operation to search for 10 other sailors who remained missing.

The 4,300-ton ship went down in rough seas 76 kilometers off South Korea's southern port city of Yeosu on April 4 on its way to Shanghai, China, from the north's eastern port city of Cheongjin with a cargo of 6,500 steel products.

Of the ship's 16 crew members, all North Koreans, two were found dead and three were rescued soon after the accident, the South Korean Coast Guard said.

On April 6, South Korea repatriated the three surviving North Korean sailors to their homeland along with the bodies of two others who died.

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