Seoul bows to Pyongyang's threat, seeks to block defectors

Special to World
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.
North Korea has succeeded in frightening South Korean authorities into spreading warnings of a terrorist attack while pleading with non-governmental organizations to stop encouraging North Korean defectors to get to South Korea.

The South Korean government this week opened a double-edged campaign. It began with the National Intelligence Service issuing an extraordinary statement claiming North Korea was “threatening our country with retaliation” for having accepted 460 North Korean refugees flown from a Southeast Asian nation, identified as Vietnam.

South Korean officials acknowledged, however, there was no definitive evidence of a North Korean plot and bent over backwards to demonstrate that the government did not have a policy of encouraging defectors.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said it was “very troublesome that non-governmental organizations shift responsibility [for the large number of North Korean defectors] when they face difficulties in handling the North Korean defector issue."

Ban appealed for “restraint."

“For South Korean NGOs involved in assisting defectors to induce or encourage defection from the North does not coincide with the policies of intra-Korean reconciliation,” he said.

Ban’s remarks were a clear reference to the crusading role of some NGOs in urging North Korean defectors to find refuge in diplomatic compounds in China or to try to make their way through China to Vietnam or Hong Kong in hopes of then going to South Korea. A South Korean official said NGOs, in aiding refugees, were blocking North-South talks, which he insisted were “going smoothly.”

The Foreign Ministry said it was urging “heightened vigilance” after a series of North Korean statements accusing South Korea of having kidnapped the refugees and engaging in human trafficking. The warning was a reminder of the history of terrorism perpetrated by North Korea, including a bombing that killed 17 South Korean officials visiting Myanmar in 1983 and the bombing of a plane over the Indian Ocean with 115 people aboard in 1985.

North Korea, however, has rejected working-level talks for the next round of six-party talks on ending the North’s nuclear program. A foreign ministry spokesman said the U.S. had “destroyed by itself the foundation for the talks, making it impossible for the DPRK to go to the forthcoming meeting of the working group.”

One reason for the North Korean position is its anger over passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of a bill aimed at promoting human rights in North Korea. The North calls the bill part of an effort to provide “a financial and material guarantee for the overthrow of the system in the DPRK” and accuses the U.S. of shipping new “war equipment” to South Korea in preparation for attack.

The North Korean statement also is believed to have been motivated by a need to save face after being embarrassed by the flight of the refugees to South Korea in late July.

Copyright © 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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