12/12/2012, 00.00
KOREA
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Korean Catholics "saddened" by North Korea's rocket, now an election issue in presidential race

Pyongyang's military provocation has injected intra-Korean relations into the presidential election, set for 19 December. The two leading candidates have not yet commented on the matter. Catholic source working in the North laments the fact civilians will pay again, and that matters will get worse if a conservative is elected.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Whether a missile or a weather satellite, last night's launch (00:49 GMT) of the Unha-3 rocket has been met with consternation around the world and brought intra-Korean relations back into South Korea's 19 December presidential election. A source from the local Catholic Church source sadly said that the action "would have dire consequences for the North Korean population, now more than ever isolated from the rest of the world."

Right after North Korean TV announced that it successfully launched its rocket, South Korea condemned the action, calling it a "threat to peace in the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world."

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak held an emergency meeting with his closest advisors and the country's security committee in the Blue House, South Korea's presidential palace.

"Our government strongly condemns, along with the international community, North Korea for ignoring repeated warnings and requests to cancel the launch and carrying on with such provocations," Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan told reporters.

At present, people are following developments and staying in contact with the authorities as much as possible, a source in Daejon told AsiaNews.

The launch has come to complicate further the presidential campaign. So far, the two main contenders, Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in, a Catholic, and Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye, a conservative and daughter of the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, have not spoken on the matter.

As the local Catholic Church has said several times in the past, they are trying to keep intra-Korean relations out of South Korean politics. However, the two have diametrically opposed positions on the issue.

Moon backs the 'Sunshine Policy,' based on dialogue, economic cooperation and social relations between North and South. Launched by former President Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Mu-hyeon, it led to an historic intra-Korean summit in 2000 and earned Kim a Nobel Peace prize.

Ms Park believes that Seoul must respond to Pyongyang's provocations blow by blow. Backed by big business (information technology and defence industries), the conservative candidate has said on several occasion that there cannot be peace without war, and that spending money in the North just to get threats is foolish.

"The rocket launch was a serious error," a Catholic told AsiaNews. "What I find moving, now, is the innocent sadness of the people," said the source, who has visited North Korea five times in the past two years.

"The dictator might lose power, the military might lose battles, but it is ordinary people who will lose their lives, even if there is no open war. The provocation will seal the borders and aid to civilians will dry up."

In the past few years, Korean NGOs have considerably reduced aid to North Korea on orders of conservative President Lee.

Only the Catholic and Protestant Churches and some Buddhist groups have been allowed to continue. "This is harder to do," the source explained. "Undoubtedly, the next president will be more conservative and things will get worse."

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