08/11/2004, 00.00
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Pyongyang's irrational anger

by Pino Cazzaniga

North Korea boycotts talks on economic cooperation with South Korea.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The fear of nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula explains the interest of world public opinion. It is not the only question for many are also concerned about the reunification of this divided people. The first problem is being dealt with through the "Six-Nations" talks, the second falls to bilateral meetings between the governments of the two Koreas.

Such meetings began after then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung met North Korea's leader in June 2000. Kim's courage is likely to be remembered as "the" act that broke the ideological ice between the two halves of Korea.

Since then 14 meetings have taken place on both sides of the 38th parallel with important results. However, the 15th, which was scheduled to take place on August 3-6 to address economic cooperation, was cancelled because North Korean representatives did not show up.

According to a spokesperson for Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland North Korean representatives did not come for two reasons: South Korea's government refusal to allow six South Korean activists to participate in the July 8 commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the death of the "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, and the rescue of 468 North Korean defectors.

For Pyongyang the rescue was an "organised and premeditated allurement, abduction and terrorism committed by the South Korean authorities against people in the North in broad daylight [. . .] to destroy the system in the north."

Such rhetoric is for a domestic audience; "few people outside of North Korea are duped," read an editorial page in The Korean Times. "But people in North Korea are less and less easily duped and this is a problem for the regime's leaders."

Behind the no-show is the North's desire to shift discussions from military questions to economics. "It will be hard for the North to receive food aid and other economic concessions from the South if it cuts off inter-Korean talks," said Yoo Ho-yeol, an associate professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University. In fact, words aside, the flow of rice-laden lorries from the south to the north has not stopped.

The virulence of propaganda from the Stalinist regime tends to increase whenever the North's masters must take unpalatable decisions. And North Korea currently feels surrounded even by its allies.

China's special envoy Ning Fukui signed an accord with its South Korean counterpart on August 2 in Seoul adding Pyongyang's uranium enrichment programme to the discussion table of the "Six-Nations" talks scheduled for September in Beijing. North Korea can thus no longer claim that such a programme does not exist.

Before the summer holidays, South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun told his cabinet that "the South Korean government will maintain its policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the North." Ministers must implement plans for economic cooperation already signed with the North such as the completion of the Gaesong industrial park located just north of the 38th parallel.

"This project is important," President Roh said, "not only for the reconciliation and prosperity of South and North Korea but as a herald for an era of prosperity and peace in north-east Asia."

On August 15 both Koreas will celebrate the 59th anniversary of the end of Japanese colonial rule. It is hoped that by then the rhetoric be more contained, at least for a while.

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