South Korea voices regret over North Korea´s threat to cancel family reunions

The Unification Ministry expressed deep regret Wednesday over North Korea’s threat to cancel the upcoming reunions of separated families, urging the North not to politicize the humanitarian issue.

Late Tuesday, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification threatened to scrap the family reunions slated for late October as President Park Geun-hye urged North Korea not to push ahead with its satellite launch.

Park made the comments in her speech on Monday at the U.N. General Assembly, where she called on the North to walk the path toward openness rather than provocations.

Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, voiced deep regret over the North’s threat, encouraging Pyongyang to honor the two Koreas’ recent landmark deal on promoting civilian inter-Korean exchanges and easing tension.

“The South Korean government urges North Korea to immediately stop its threats and unilateral condemnation and to sincerely honor the inter-Korean deal,” Jeong told a regular press briefing.

He said that North Korea should not put the humanitarian issue at risk, due to political reasons.

On Aug. 25, South and North Korea agreed to defuse military tension and seek to hold the reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two Koreas plan to hold the event for 100 families from each side on Oct. 20-26 at the scenic resort on the North’s Mount Kumgang.

There is growing speculation that North Korea is likely to launch a long-range rocket around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party which falls on Oct. 10.

Experts view it as a cover for ballistic missile tests.

The North has also hinted at conducting a fourth nuclear test by saying that all the facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex have returned to normal operations. It conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. (Yonhap)

 

The Korea Herald

South Korea hopes to hold family reunion with North Korea as scheduled

South Korea expressed hope Wednesday that the two Koreas would stage reunions as scheduled next month for families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, made the comment a day after North Korea warned that it could cancel the reunions in anger over President Park Geun-hye’s recent address to the U.N. General Assembly.

The two Koreas have agreed to stage the reunions for 100 separated family members from each side on Oct. 20-26 at Mount Kumgang, a scenic mountain resort on the North’s east coast. The reunions are a key part of a recent deal that defused military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea said Tuesday that the upcoming reunions have been “put at serious peril,” due to what it claims is Park’s “reckless confrontation row.”

In an address to the U.N. on Monday, Park called on North Korea to embrace reform and openness rather than carrying out a long-range rocket.

She also said a rocket launch would harm the hard-won mood for inter-Korean dialogue and undermine the efforts to resume the long-stalled talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

There is speculation that North Korea could launch a long-range rocket in October to put a satellite into orbit as part of its celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party.

Park also urged North Korea to improve its dismal human rights record by heeding to international concerns.

The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea denounced Park’s speech as “an unpardonable provocation” and called on South Korea to apologize over slandering North Korea.

“If the South Korean authorities let loose a string of confrontational invectives as now, the event may prove completely abortive,” according to the committee, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Family reunions have long been affected by political situations on the Korean Peninsula. The two Koreas last held family reunions in February 2014.

Family reunions are a pressing humanitarian issue, as most separated family members are in their 70s and 80s, and wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die. (Yonhap)

 

The Korea Herald

International coalition launched to urge North Korean human rights bill passage

Flag of North Korea.svg

An international coalition has been launched to raise awareness about the North Korean human rights bill that has been stalled in the South Korean parliament for a decade now, a U.S.-based human rights group said Wednesday.

If signed into law, the bill would improve the human rights situation in the North by promoting activities such as supporting defector organizations in the South and educating South Koreans on these issues in the North, Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation said in a press conference at the Korea Press Center in Seoul.

North Korea is accused of serious human rights abuses, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in concentration camps, to torture and public executions. Pyongyang flatly denies the accusations as a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

“Consider that there is already a North Korean human rights act in Japan, in the United States. Canada has a North Korean human rights day. The United Nations has an entire commission devoted to North Korean human rights, and South Korea has nothing,” Halvorssen said, criticizing South Korean lawmakers who have been “invisible in this fight.”

Since the first draft bill to improve North Korea’s human rights situation was filed with the National Assembly in 2005, no major progress has been made.

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

“The South Korean government, every year, provides $1.7 billion of aids to foreign countries,” said Garry Kasparov, the chairman of HRF and leader of the International Coalition, pointing out that “not a single dime has been given to the North Korean society.”

He also criticized South Korean conglomerates that provide huge support to foreign countries while being ignorant of the defectors in the South.

People from many fields, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and professor at Stanford University Larry Diamond, have joined the coalition to take part in the action.

The HRF was established in 2005 and is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving human rights all over the world.

Halvorssen has joined a South Korean activist group in sending balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets to the North in 2013 and 2015. (Yonhap)

The Korea Herald

Buddhist leaders of Koreas to meet in North Korea for joint events

 

Buddhist leaders of the two Koreas will meet in the North Korean border town of Kaesong this week to discuss planned joint events, the South Korean organizer said Wednesday.

The representatives from South Korea’s Cheontae Order will “meet with officials from the North’s Buddhist federation on Saturday to set details about a couple of joint religious events,” the sect said in a release.

The planned functions include one to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the reconstruction of Ryongtong Temple in Kaesong and a memorial service to mark the death of Cheontae’s founder and a Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) monk, Uicheon, the South’s second-largest Buddhist sect added.

The two entities have held a joint memorial service at the temple almost on a yearly basis since 2004 when the two-year project to restore the temple was completed with the help of the Cheontae.

Believed to have been the first Cheontae temple in Korea, Ryongtong Temple was destroyed by fire in the 16th century and damaged further by the 1950-53 Korean War.

“We are mulling to hold the event for the restoration in Kaesong while inviting North Korean religious people to the South for the anniversary of Uicheon’s death,” Cheontae official Shin Myun-kwan said.

The planned religious exchanges came at a time when the inter-Korean relations are standing at a crossroad.

Last month, South and North Korea reached a landmark deal to ease tension, but the bellicose regime has made good on threats urging the South to stop what it calls “hostile moves” such as Seoul’s plan to make a special military unit to be tasked with attacking the North’s strategic facilities. (Yonhap)

 

The Korea Herald

Civil group presses for North Korean Human Rights Act

A leading international human rights organization Wednesday called for the prompt passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act, a bill stalled at the National Assembly since 2005.

The Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York, organized a delegation of democracy advocates to speak at a conference at the Seoul Press Center.

“The North Korean government is unquestionably the worst oppressive and tyrannical regime in the world, having purged millions of its own citizens through concentration camps, enforced starvation and mass executions,” said Garry Kasparov, a Russian chess grandmaster, writer and political activist.

Human rights activists and experts attend a conference Wednesday on human rights abuses in the North at the Seoul Press Center in central Seoul. Yonhap

Also attending were Serbian human rights advocate Srdja Popovic, Jimmy Wales Foundation CEO Orit Kopel, Venezuelan human rights advocate and film producer Thor Halvorssen, North Korea defector Ji Seong-ho and Korean lawyer Kim Tae-hoon.

The group collectively stressed the “universal” nature of the issue, arguing that it is everyone’s responsibility to speak against the grave rights violations in North Korea and demand the South Korean government deal with the issue apolitically.

“Our coalition aims to unite all efforts to get this long overdue bill approved, and provide moral and material support to those willing to make changes,” Kasparov said.

Since being proposed by former Gyeonggi Provincial Gov. Kim Moon-soo in 2005, a bill for the Act has been gathering dust at Korea’s parliament amid political gridlock. The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has opposed the bill out of worries that it might provoke the hostile Pyongyang regime, proposing instead humanitarian assistance.

According to lawyer Kim Tae-hoon, who leads a civil group dedicated to the cause, most of the bill’s content has been agreed upon by the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, but the key issue of establishing an archive center dedicated to recording Pyongyang’s human rights violations, similar to West Germany’s Salzgitter Center, is at an impasse between the two parties.

Over the last decade, Japan and the United States passed North Korean human rights acts, Canada established a North Korea human rights day and the United Nations has created a Special Rapporteur and Commission of Inquiry on the matter.

Human rights activists and experts attend a conference Wednesday on human rights abuses in the North at the Seoul Press Center in central Seoul. Joel Lee / The Korea Herald

Halvorssen claimed that the South Korean government has been largely absent in the international coalition on this universal issue, adding that nonviolent action in the form of information, education and global attention can initiate bottom-up developments.

If enacted, the act would institute a monitoring and documentation program modeled after Germany’s unification experience, launch a campaign to educate South Korea’s public and defector groups, increase humanitarian aid, dramatically boost the flow of information into the reclusive country and create high-level posts in the government for financial and administrative support.

Halvorssen added that the National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Unification, the North Korean defector community and President Park Geun-hye have supported the bill.

“I lived half of my conscious life under the bloody dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. My compassion for North Koreans comes from my knowledge of how it is to live in a country of fear,” said Popovic.

“Exactly 15 years ago, Serbian people launched a nonviolent movement that successfully ended the rule of Milosevic. My country is a very different place now as a democracy.”

Popovic underscored that while it is the duty of people inside the country to topple their dictator, the job is much easier “when you know that you are not alone.”

Serbia’s successful transition to a democracy and market economy could not have been possible without the Serbian diaspora and defectors from the military who financially and politically supported their compatriots, he pointed out.

Democratic allies provided radios that helped spread information about freedom outside, and in the end, the International Criminal Court prosecuted Milosevic and his gang, Popovic added.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)

The Korea Herald

Seoul slams North Korea for threats over family reunions

Seoul on Wednesday blasted Pyongyang for its apparent threats to thwart their agreement to hold the reunions of families separated by the border, reiterating that the humanitarian issue should be insulated from political and military factors.

The communist regime renewed the threat on Tuesday as it criticized President Park Geun-hye’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly that increased pressure on it to abandon its nuclear ambitions and take a path toward economic development and regional peace.

“It is deeply regrettable that North Korea unilaterally distorted and criticized the president’s U.N. speech, and said that the efforts to hold family reunions were precarious,” Jeong Joon-hee, the spokesperson of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said during a regular press briefing.

“We urge the North to immediately halt its unilateral claims, criticism and threats, and to conscientiously execute the Aug. 25 agreement,” he added, referring to the breakthrough deal that brought the two Koreas from the brink of an armed confrontation.

Part of the deal was to hold the family reunions, which are slated to take place from Oct. 20-26 at Mount Geumgangsan on the North’s east coast.

Over the past week, the North has indicated the possibility of the efforts to hold the reunions falling apart, as it responded angrily to South Korea’s moves to enact a North Korea human rights act and its civic groups’ cross-border dissemination of anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

Pyongyang’s anger was vented again this week after Park mentioned the national reunification as an effective solution to address a series of North Korean problems including its nuclear development, human rights abuses and persistent provocations.

The reclusive regime has so far dismissed Seoul’s efforts to lay the foundation for reunification as an ill-intended political attempt at inducing its collapse and absorbing the North into the South’s democratic system.

“Park laid bare her ambitions to realize the national reunification by absorbing the North into the South with the backing of foreign forces,” the spokesperson of the North’s Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland said in a statement on Tuesday.

“(The efforts for) reunions of separated families are precarious.”

Undeterred by Pyongyang’s rhetoric, Cheong Wa Dae vowed to step up efforts to secure international support for its unification policy and endeavors to stop the North’s provocations and nuclear development.

“(At the U.N. General Assembly) Park has enunciated her will to sever the vicious cycle of North Korea’s provocations and then rewards,” Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, told reporters while explaining the outcome of Park’s attendance at the U.N. Assembly.

“To this end, we will respond sternly to provocations, based on our principles, while leaving open the door for dialogue.”

Amid the growing inter-Korean tensions, the efforts to set up cross-border talks — as part of the Aug. 25 agreement — have made little progress.

Seoul officials think that the talks were unlikely to happen before Oct. 10, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, although the two sides have agreed to hold the talks at an early date to improve inter-Korean relations.

The North has been busy preparing for the anniversary celebrations, while the South has remained cautious about its proposal for the talks amid the growing concerns that the North would set off provocations such as a long-range rocket launch and a nuclear test around Oct. 10.

To prevent the North’s provocations, Seoul has been stepping up its diplomacy through bilateral and multilateral high-level talks.

After the trilateral meeting among the foreign ministers of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan in New York on Tuesday, the top diplomats warned that the North would face stronger international sanctions should it launch additional provocations.

Seoul officials said that South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to make a “strong” response should the North engage in provocative acts.

Yun and Kishida were to hold a separate bilateral meeting on Wednesday to further discuss their joint efforts to deter the North’s provocations, and other bilateral issues.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

 

The Korea Herald