11/26/2008, 00.00
KOREA
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Intellectuals and Christian leaders appeal for dialogue between two Koreas

by Theresa Kim Hwa-yung
They express their hope for an end to the tensions, and a return to the negotiating table with the North. The South Korean government reiterates that the nuclear question comes before any economic agreement, and fears total closure of the industrial complex of Kaesong, the last tiny area of cooperation. Pyongyang is publishing new photos of Kim Jong-Il, without specifying the date on which they were taken.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Setting aside a policy called "myopic," and promoting relations of "peace and prosperity" with North Korea, relations with which have reached "a crucial point" and over the long term risk deteriorating in an irreparable manner. This is the hope of the 39 personalities of the South Korean political, religious, economic, and cultural world meeting in a "Council for Normalization of Inter-Korean Relations."

The conservative party at the head of the country nonetheless does not intend to take even a single step back on the North Korean nuclear question, making any economic agreements conditional on this. Park Hee-tae, president of the Grand National Party, reiterates that the support of South Korea is limited for now to "humanitarian aid" until the communist regime demonstrates "that it has set aside its nuclear program."

Park, who is very close to the entourage of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, criticizes the recent positions of Pyongyang; he calls for a flexible attitude on the part of the government, which is confronting a communist regime that is "hard to understand" and prefers the logic of threats to dialogue. Breaking with the "sunshine policy" [editor's note: the policy of inter-Korean mediation launched by president Kim Dae-jung], president Lee has repeatedly stated that his government will not expand its projects of inter-Korean cooperation until the North abandons its nuclear ambitions. Park finally added that the agreements reached during two meetings in 2000 and 2007 - and signed by the previous administration - are "unrealistic" and "too burdensome" for South Korea's finances. Seoul is not ruling out the complete shutdown of the industrial complex in Kaesong. Kim Ha-joong, South Korea's unification minister, said in a session of parliament that this would be "unfortunate,", but "it cannot be ruled out."

But more people in the country are calling for a return to dialogue and cooperation, saying that the Seoul government is being too inflexible.

The promoters of the committee for the normalization of inter-Korean relations are announcing, for next December 2, a conference in which a process will be outlined for a return to the the negotiating table. This is an approach shared by 103 leaders of the Korean Protestant Church, who do not hide their preoccupation over a situation of increasing tension between the two countries. The Christians are asking the government to foster a "balanced policy aimed at cooperation," instead of exaggerating the news of "possible and rapid changes in North Korea." They are also inviting both parties to stop "mutual insults and defamations."

Meanwhile, North Korea has released more photos of Kim Jong-Il, without specifying the date or time at which they were taken. The images published by the official Korean Central News Agency show the "dear leader" visiting a cosmetics factory in Sinuiju, a city in the west of the country. The communist government is therefore continuing its propaganda aimed at quieting the rumors that the dictator is sick. He has not been seen in public since mid-August.

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