PN's Voice 46

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PN's Voice 46, 18-06-2015
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PN's Voice No. 46  18. 06. 2015 
Small steps, Road to peace

N. Korea Open to Dialogue with the South

North Korea released a statement this Monday, the 15th anniversary of the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration (a historic inter-Korean summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il), announcing that there is no need for the two Koreas to avoid talks if an atmosphere of trust and reconciliation is created. In a statement quoted by its official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean government said it is "determined to improve inter-Korean relations, which are in a serious crisis, and pave the way for national reconciliation and unity." This was the first official approach since a surprise visit by senior officials to the Asian Games in July last year.

However, the statement stipulated five pre-conditions for dialogue to resume: "rejecting outside forces" and seeking reunification at the will of the Korean people; no integration of different systems; an end to annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises; an end to propaganda against the North Korean regime; and removing obstacles that stand in the way of exchanges and cooperation - which is likely a reference to sanctions. The pre-conditions are examples of the North’s demands that the South must “not simply say that they respect the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 Statement. Rather, they must show that they respect them through real action.” Professor Nam Sung-Wook of Korea University hypothesized that the North “attached the conditions because they want to control inter-Korean dialogue for its own ends."

In response, the South’s Unification Ministry urged the North to immediately stop creating military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to come to the dialogue table without irrational preconditions. The Unification Minister Hong Yong-Pyo described the North’s offer as a step forward in the bilateral ties, but said that it was regrettable that the North attached preconditions for dialogue. He went on to urge Pyongyang to come to talks without laying down "improper preconditions." Hong said that it is a good sign that the North appears to be softening its stance, compared with provocative acts and slander toward the South. "The statement seems to mark a step forward. But it is regrettable that the North presented a set of conditions for talks," the minister told a group of reporters.
Source : Yonhap News, Chosun Ilbo, The Hankyoreh


NK Repatriates Two South Koreans

Adding to the hopes of a mood of inter-Korean conciliation, North Korea repatriated two South Koreans yesterday whom it accused of illegally entering the country last month, the South’s unification ministry said. According to ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-Jin, a 59-year-old man, surnamed Lee, and a 51-year-old woman, surnamed Jin, were sent back to Seoul at 10:15 a.m. through the border village of Panmunjeom. "The government took them into custody earlier in the day," Park said in a briefing.

The couple disappeared last month during a trip to a Chinese city that borders the North and the government had sought information about their whereabouts. The North's Korean Central News Agency reported that the repatriation was carried out as a humanitarian act. "Their illegal entrance should be punished according to the law, but we mercifully decided to return them to the South after the two South Koreans admitted to have intentionally entered the North and asked for forgiveness," the state-run news agency said.

The tone of the North’s statement and the focus on the release being a “humanitarian act”, combined with the fact that the repatriation came just two days after the North released an official statement saying it was open to dialogue with the South (see above) suggest that the North may be reaching out to the South to try and improve relations. Last year and earlier this year hopes for improved inter-Korean relations were high as the North was sending out signals to the South that it wanted to improve relations. However, the North had appeared to grow frustrated and impatient with the lack of progress and abandoned the tactic. However, recent events may yet lead to a new dawn of hope in thawing relations between the 2 Koreas. However, the South’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-Pyo urged caution on this belief saying that "It is too early to think that the repatriation could be linked to the North's (conciliatory gesture)."

The North's proposal came on the 15th anniversary a historic inter-Korean summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. "The return of two South Koreans is an extension of the statement," said Chang Yong-Seok, a senior analyst at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. "It means that the North showed its willingness to improve inter-Korean ties, so the South is required to change its behaviour toward the North." Chang also said the action is aimed at easing growing international pressure on the reclusive country. "The international community has been negative about the North due to its human rights issue and others, further isolating the country diplomatically," he said. "So, the North also expected the repatriation will ease that pressure."

Despite Wednesday's return, there are still four South Koreans detained in the North ― missionaries Kim Jung-Wook, Kim Kuk-Gi and Choe Chun-Gil, and New York University student Joo Won-Moon. The South Korean government has urged the North to free them, but those requests have been rejected. The three missionaries are held captive on charges of spying.
Source : Yonhap News, The Korea Times


North Korea Says It’s Facing Its Worst Drought in a Century

North Korea is in the midst of a severe drought, its state news agency reported, raising fears of worsening food shortages in the impoverished country, where child malnutrition is a persistent problem. “The worst drought in 100 years continues in the D.P.R.K., causing great damage to its agricultural field,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a report late Tuesday, using an abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There was no evidence that the drought was the worst in a century. But United Nations officials recently expressed growing concern about the lack of rain. In April, the United Nations called for $111 million to fund its humanitarian operations in North Korea, saying that 70 percent of the country’s 25 million people were “food insecure.”.

Much of the Korean Peninsula has had unusually dry weather in recent weeks, at a crucial time for rice farming when seedlings are transplanted. Rice is a staple for both Koreas. Humanitarian officials have warned that North Koreans, especially children, nursing mothers and other vulnerable people, are likely to suffer worse food shortages than in most years because of the drought. The North Korean report on Tuesday said that more than 30 percent of the country’s rice paddies were drying up. The Unification Ministry of South Korea said last week that crop production in the North could fall by 15 percent to 20 percent from last year if the drought continued into early July, depriving rice seedlings of the water they need to take root and grow.

Decades of deforestation and soil erosion, as well as government mismanagement, have left North Korea particularly vulnerable to drought and floods. A famine in the late 1990s, a period known as ‘The Arduous March’ in North Korea, killed hundreds of thousands of people by the North Korean government’s own admission, although other estimates put the death toll at up to three million. That famine set off an outflow of North Korean refugees that continues today.

North Korea still faces chronic food shortages, even as it has improved its farming methods with help from international experts. The World Food Program and other agencies have called for humanitarian aid every year, noting that almost a third of North Korean children under five are stunted because of malnutrition. But donors have given less during the past decade as the North has continued its nuclear weapons program and as attention has been drawn to its human rights abuses. The North’s refusal to allow adequate monitoring of aid distribution has also put off some donors, who fear that aid would be misallocated.

South Korea was once the North’s largest source of humanitarian aid, but it has cut back its support drastically since 2010’s implementing of the so called May 24 sanctions. The United States stated yesterday that it has no plans to provide food aid to North Korea.
Source : The New York Times, Yonhap News, BBC


Both Koreas Exchange Words Over Human Rights Office

South and North Korea have exchanged words at a United Nations meeting over the establishment of a U.N. human rights field office in the South. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights plans to open a field office in Seoul as early as this month to monitor human rights in North Korea. The move follows a recommendation by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry tasked with probing human rights in the North. Early last year, the panel released a damning report on the North’s human rights conditions and recommended a series of actions, including the establishment of the field office. The exchange occurred at a United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva Monday.

South Korea’s Ambassador to the U.N. Seo-Kyoung Choi said his country supports the establishment of the field office. “The Republic of Korea stands ready to lend our full support to the activities of the field offices. In the same vein, as the host country, the Republic of Korea will support the field-based structure on DPRK human rights in successfully discharging its mandate,” the envoy said. Japan also showed its support, deploring the human rights situation in the communist country. “The human rights violations in the DPRK continues to be extremely grave, and the continued involvement of the international community is necessary. Japan welcomes that a field-based structure will soon be established in Seoul, based on the COI report and relevant Human Rights Council resolutions,” said Misako Kaji, Japan’s deputy permanent representative to the International Organizations in Geneva.

The North dismissed the U.N. move. “We regard it as a political plot aimed at overthrowing the social system of the DPRK by fabricating and propagandizing the human rights issues of the DPRK,” said Kim Yong Ho, counsellor at the North’s mission in Geneva. Recently, Pyongyang launched an intense campaign to counter an international call for improvements in the country’s human rights. Early this year, Pyongyang dispatched its top diplomat to a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting to defend its human rights record.

Last December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted its toughest resolution against Pyongyang on its human rights record. The U.N. action calls for the Security Council to consider referring the North Korean human rights situation to the International Criminal Court.
Source : Voice of America


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