Fri, Oct 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

South and North Koreas’ reconciliation attempt fizzles

AP AND AFP , SEOUL

South Korea and North Korea ended their first official talks in eight months without any progress, a South Korean official said yesterday, dealing a setback to Seoul’s efforts to put reconciliation back on track.

The meeting got off to a rocky start, with discussions delayed nearly an hour when the North Koreans demanded the entire meeting be open to the media.

Seoul protested, according to pool reports. It said no previous inter-Korean dialogue had been fully open to media and the North was trying to turn the talks into a propaganda venue.

North Korea renewed its demand that South Korea stop sending propaganda leaflets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il across the border, South Korea’s chief negotiator Colonel Lee Sang-cheol told reporters.

Pyongyang threatened to evict all South Korean staff from a joint industrial estate at Kaesong unless Seoul stops the cross-border propaganda, the defense ministry said.

“The North’s side said that our people could not stay in Kaesong and Kumgang [resort] ... if the dropping of leaflets continues,” it said in a statement on the outcome of the working-level meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

“What your side is demanding sounds like you are interested in announcing what you want to say rather than finding ways to solve the problems at hand,” Colonel Lee Sang-cheol told his North Korean counterpart, Colonel Pak Rim-su.

Pak said the talks “will have a great influence on the overall North-South relationship in the future,” describing ties as in “very serious condition.”

In 2004, the two Koreas reached a no-propaganda accord officially ending decades of fierce rhetorical battles using leaflets, loudspeakers and radio broadcasts.

However, some groups of North Korean defectors to the South still send leaflets condemning Kim and his regime to the North via small balloons dispatched from the border.

Lee said the South Korean government “is thoroughly abiding by” the deal but that there are legal restrictions in keeping activists from sending the leaflets. He did not elaborate.

The Pyongyang is intolerant of any criticism of Kim, who enjoys a personality cult engineered by his late father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung.

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