Archive for June, 2003

Koreans hold emotional reunion

Friday, June 27th, 2003


More than 100 elderly South Koreans travelled to the North on Friday for a tearful reunion with relatives they had not seen since the Korean war ended nearly 50 years ago.

Tens of thousands of Koreans have been cut off from their families – with no mail, telephone service or other form of communication between them.

But since the two sides held an unprecedented summit in 2000, there have been seven rounds of temporary reunions, allowing a lucky few to see each other again – all-be-it for only a few days.

The reunions are always surrounded by intense emotion, not least because many of those desperate to be reunited with their relatives are becoming increasingly frail.

Thousands die every year before getting the chance to be reunited with loved ones.

Friday’s trip to North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort, included three South Koreans aged more than 100 years old.

Chun Eung-oh, 85, said she did not want to return to the South and leave her son, Park Un Jin, 65, in the North.

“When I return, I will be alone. I have no one in the South. Can I live with you?” she asked her son, who was unable to answer.

Both Koreas have agreed to set up a permanent family reunion centre, where separated relatives could meet more easily.

But tensions over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have cast doubt over the proposals, and lessened the hopes of many thousands of families.

‘Grave threat’

More than a million people crowded Pyongyang’s streets for anti-American rallies on Wednesday, as part of the government commemorations marking the 53rd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.

On Friday, the American ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, said North Korea posed a “grave” threat to world peace.

“I hope they understand that time is not on their side,” he said, adding that “sooner or later, patience expires”.

He urged the Stalinist state to take steps to abandon its nuclear programme as soon as possible.

He also suggested that Washington was unlikely to continue with plans to construct nuclear power plants in North Korea, if Pyongyang did not put a stop to its weapons programme.

“My guess is that if… they do not decide to engage in dismantlement of their weapons programme, it is unlikely that the United States would support the completion of those reactors beyond the commitments that we’ve undertaken in the framework agreement,” Mr Baker said.

But Japan signalled on Friday that it was not yet ready to abandon the project.

“We are not presently thinking of putting an end to it,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

The US$4.6bn construction project, backed by the US, the European Union, Japan and South Korea, has been in doubt since the US claimed last year that Pyongyang had admitted to a secret nuclear programme.

The project was designed to build two light-water reactors in North Korea, as part of a 1994 agreement to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.


S Koreans charged over summit cash

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003


Two top aides to South Korean former President Kim Dae-jung have been charged following an inquiry into a cash for summit scandal which preceded an historic inter-Korean meeting three years ago.

Park Jie-won, Mr Kim’s presidential chief of staff, and Lim Dong-won, the former head of South Korea’s spy agency, were among more than eight people charged as a result of a 70-day probe by independent counsel Song Doo-hwan.

Mr Song’s investigation found that $100m of the $500m transferred by Seoul to North Korea ahead of the 2000 summit was government money.

The inquiry was ordered by incumbent South Korean President, Roh Moo-hyun, after the scandal first surfaced during last year’s presidential election.

Kim Dae-jung has already apologised to the nation for the advance payment to the North, but denied the government itself had made any payments.

Mr Song said that while $400m of the money belonged to Hyundai, and was intended for legitimate business investment in North Korea, $100m was sent by Seoul as “politically motivated government aid”.

He stopped short of saying the government money was a bribe, but said the donation was clearly related to the summit and had been sent secretly through improper channels.

Mr Kim, who left office this February after a five-year tenure, was given the Nobel Peace Prize largely as a result of the historic inter-Korean summit.

He has argued that the money transfers “facilitated peace on the Korean Peninsula”.

But opposition politicians have continued to demand a more thorough enquiry into the matter.


One of the officials charged in connection with the scandal, former Culture and Tourism Minister Park Jie-won, met North Korean officials in April 2000 to arrange the June summit, according to Mr Song’s inquiry.

During the meeting, Mr Park pledged $100m to Pyongyang, which he later persuaded Hyundai to transfer, Mr Song said.

Lim Dong-won, former director of the National Intelligence Service, is accused of violating laws on foreign exchange transactions.

Chung Mong-hun, the chairman of Hyundai Asan, has also been charged in connection with the falsification of financial documents in order to cover up the payments to Pyongyang.

At least five others have been charged in connection with the case – some of whom could face up to five years in jail, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Roh has vetoed a call by the South Korean opposition that the probe be extended to investigate the role of former President Kim Dae-jung himself.


Railway reconnects two Koreas

Saturday, June 14th, 2003


North and South Korea have held a symbolic ceremony to re-link cross border railways severed by war more than 50 years ago.

Engineers from both sides tightened the screws on the railway tracks that will, it is hoped, eventually carry passenger trains between the two countries.

The event came a day before the third anniversary of an historic inter-Korean summit in which the then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung made a euphoric visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Reconciliation has since stalled, and tension has heightened over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programmes.

“Removing barbed-wire fences and mines, the nation’s artery has been re-linked,” said South Korea’s chief delegate Cho Myong-kyun, speaking inside the four kilometre (2.5 mile) demilitarised zone that separates the two countries.

His North Korean counterpart Kim Byong-chil said: ” “If we continue moving forward, with our hands linked together, we will be able to tear down the barbed wire of division and achieve national unification.”

The ceremony was supposed to have taken place in March, but was delayed because of the war in Iraq and the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Despite Saturday’s ceremony it will be some time before trains run between the two Koreas, which were divided at the end of World War II.

The last train crossed the border shortly before the 1950-53 Korean War. The two countries remain technically at war, as there was a ceasefire but no formal treaty.

Two railways links are planned, but more work is needed.

Nuclear tensions

Both sides have said they want to complete the restoration of the western line by September. This will run between Seoul and Pyongyang, and extend to North Korea’s border with China.

If work goes to schedule, a rail link along the eastern coast will be ready by the end of the year.

But despite the progress on rail links, the BBC’s Charles Scanlon in Seoul says North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme is increasingly threatening reconciliation between the two countries.

On Monday, North Korea threatened to develop a “nuclear deterrent” unless the United States ends its “hostile policy”.

It was the closest North Korea had come to publicly admitting that it was working on nuclear weapons.

Our correspondent says it has put a growing strain on South Korea’s policy of reconciliation – what used to be known as the sunshine policy.

The United States and Japan have agreed on tougher measures – meaning sanctions – if the North continues to build nuclear warheads.

South Korean officials stress that dialogue is the only solution to the confrontation.


The last trans-Korean rail journey

Friday, June 13th, 2003


Woo Ik-hwan, the last train driver to leave North Korea before the border was shut as a result of the war, told the BBC of his final journey.

In 1950 the Korean War started. I was hired to drive a hospital train that would bring wounded South Korean soldiers down from North Korea.

When the Chinese troops invaded, there was a major retreat, and that was when I was ordered to bring the remaining wounded soldiers down to South Korea.

That was the last time a train came down South from North Korea.

It was in the evening when I started the train. It was around 7 o’clock because it was already getting dark. Everyone was retreating and there was an air of sadness hanging about.

I can still remember how sad the telephone bell ringing sounded when I received the final order to come back home.

When people learned that the last train out of the North was about to leave, everyone started to gather around the station.

The passenger cars were full of wounded soldiers so people started to climb on to the steam locomotive.

There were people with bags and children.

Some went on to the roof and others found space where we stored the coal. Soon the locomotive was packed with people clinging on to anything they could grasp. People who couldn’t hang on had to let go of the train. It was a such a tragic sight.

It’s been 50 years since the Korean War. When the war ended and the track got disconnected, I thought to myself that the two sides would stay separated forever.

A railroad track is like the artery of a person.

Look what happens when the blood flow of the two countries come to a halt. Over the years the South received help from Western countries and we managed to develop ourselves.

But look at the North. Millions have died in hunger and their economy is about to collapse. If the track had been connected and if our resources were able to flow into the North, that wouldn’t have happened.

After 50 years of living in isolation, the North have now realised the importance of the track and they’ve finally agreed to reconnect it.

All this time, whenever I had a chance to go to the end of the track at the border, I’d hoped that the track would some day get reconnected.

When I think of my parents and my siblings in North Korea, my heart aches and tears come out. But now that I hear that the track will once again get reconnected, I can’t express how happy I am.

I really want to go North Korea. Over the years I’ve driven steam, diesel and electric trains. I’ve experienced them all.

If the track gets reconnected and if I were asked to drive the first train back to the North, even at this age I’m sure I could do it, if I were to live that long.

When I close my eyes, I still can see the tracks stretching in front of me. If I’m on that first train, that means that I could return to my home town as well. Nothing could get better than that.


N Korea ‘spy ship’ a hit with tourists

Monday, June 2nd, 2003


Video of the ship’s sinking on Youtube: 1, 2

Tourists in Tokyo are flocking to visit the salvaged remains of a suspected North Korean spy ship, sunk after a gun battle with the Japanese coast guard in December 2001.

The unusual tourist attraction in the fashionable O-Daiba area attracted more than 20,000 people in its first weekend on display to the public.

Exhibits included an underwater scooter and a portable missile launcher, as well as the bullet-scarred hull.

The spy ship was put on display by the coastguard in order to raise awareness of the threat from North Korea, whose alleged nuclear programme has severely strained its foreign relations with Japan in recent months.

Some visitors said that the exhibit confirmed their view that Tokyo was too soft on Pyongyang.

“Japan is just too wimpy,” 60-year-old Goro Masuda told Reuters news agency. “We must take a stronger line.”

But others thought that the Japanese coastguard was trying to manipulate the public.

“I think the coast guard had its own reasons for wanting to show us this,” said Akihiko Nishimura.

The ship was disguised as a Chinese fishing boat when it was intercepted by the Japanese coastguard.

It was sank after a six-hour chase and fire fight with Japanese patrol ships.

The vessel, which was said to have failed to heed Japanese warning shots and an order to stop, fled in the direction of China before it sank.

After salvaging the wreckage, coastguards found a small button labelled “self-destruct” on board, which they believed was used by the crew to scupper the boat rather than be captured.

Ten bodies were recovered from the ship, although officials said that the array of equipment on the ship meant that there were probably several more North Koreans on board.