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Asia

Inter-Korean Tension Rises

A North Korean soldier killed a 53-year-old South Korean tourist last week when she accidentally went into a military zone as she walked along the beach. The incident has overshadowed Seoul’s offer to resume talks with its communist neighbour.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak orginally advocated a hard-line stance against Pyongyang

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak orginally advocated a hard-line stance against Pyongyang

It was more than just an unhappy coincidence -- just minutes before he was supposed to appear in parliament to make his assembly address, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was told about the killing of a South Korean tourist in North Korea. But despite the news, he kept to his original speech and proposed a resumption of dialogue with Pyongyang.

By doing so he was signifying a swift change of course, changing his tone dramatically. When he took office in February, Lee abruptly broke with his predecessor’s rapprochement doctrine and announced that he wanted to examine all the inter-Korean agreements made so far, warning North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and make a full declaration of its nuclear programme and facilities.

But developments in the international arena left President Lee Myung-bak isolated. At the end of June, North Korea finally agreed to declare its nuclear programme, and the US announced it would strike North Korea off its list of terrorism-supporting countries.

Change of line to curry favour

So the president remained alone with his hard-line stance, and domestically the situation was also quite tense in view of a beef row. Observers think the president was hoping to curry favour with the disgruntled electorate by adopting a more conciliatory tone towards North Korea in his assembly address.

“As the denuclearization process progresses, substantial cooperation between the two Koreas will be rejuvenated,” Lee said. “This will, in turn, open an age of the Korean Peninsula, with both parts of the country thriving together. I hereby make the following proposals to North Korea. Full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume.”

A ceasefire agreement has existed between the two states since 1953 when the Korean War came to an end but there no formal peace treaty has been signed. In 1998, former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung set in motion a process of cautious rapprochement, nicknamed the Sunshine Policy, emphasizing peaceful cooperation and seeking short-term reconciliation with a view to possible reunification.

Opening parts of North Korea to tourism

At an historic summit in the year 2000 the two rival countries’ leaders met in Pyongyang. Economic cooperation between the two states developed and some parts in North Korea were opened to South Korean tourists -- including the region around Mount Kumgang near the common border on the east coast of North Korea.

This is where a tourist was killed last Friday when she inadvertently entered a military zone.

North Korea claims she did not stay still when asked and ignored a warning shot, starting to run instead. A soldier then fired two shots, wounding her fatally. She died on the way to hospital.

“Unimaginable”

A spokesman from the South Korean unification ministry said that the incident was “unimaginable” and should not have occurred at all and said the government would make clear if the incident was “accidental or intended after the investigation is completed. The priority is to form a fact-finding team of officials from related ministries.''

For its part, North Korea immediately blamed Seoul and said it would not accept “South Korean tourists until after the South apologized appropriately and worked out measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.” On Sunday, Seoul demanded that South Korean investigators be allowed to examine the crime site.

In the wake of these recent developments, President Lee Myung-bak’s proposal to resume dialogue has been largely ignored. On Sunday, however, the North Korean state newspaper Rodong, the government’s official mouthpiece, stated in its commentary that the proposal was nothing but empty words and called the South Korean president a traitor.

  • Date 14.07.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act) 14/07/08
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsLb
  • Date 14.07.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act) 14/07/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsLb