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[Editorial] A New Low for Kim Jong Il

Posted March. 10, 2009 03:07,   


North Korea cut the inter-Korean military hotline yesterday and blocked the return of 80 South Koreans who sought to go home from the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Gaesong. This detention was a de facto provocation. Fears are growing over the safety of 573 South Koreans remaining in the complex. The North, which has raised bilateral tension since a South Korean tourist at the Mount Geumgang resort was shot dead last year, is now threatening the security of South Koreans in the complex. Seoul must ensure their safety at all costs.

The North severed the hotline because of the start of the South Korea-U.S. joint military drills Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. The North had been notified by the United Nations Command about the exercises and was requested to observe, yet Pyongyang blasted them as an exercise to invade North Korea. This is quite a precarious action that a normal country could not think of. Even a small mistake can lead to confrontation in a stand-off situation. To prevent this, military communications was set up. The North must be scared of how the international community as well as South Korea and the United States will respond to the cutoff of the hotline. Severing communications and detaining residents in the complex nullified the agreement on military guarantees for transit, communication and customs clearance in inter-Korean restricted areas, and an accord guaranteeing South Koreans’ entrance, stay and personal security. Whether the North can force the South to observe the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean agreements is unclear.

North Korea will be making a mistake if its actions are geared to divert its people’s attention away from their economic difficulty. Kim Jong Il must think hard why Seoul is not budging toward Pyongyang’s repeated threats and provocations. Even after a limit was placed on South Korean visits to the complex in December last year, the number of North Korean workers there was raised to 38,000. South Korea knows that North Korea badly needs the complex despite using its provocative words.

Not surprisingly, North Koreans approved candidates designated by their government in the North’s parliamentary elections. Few countries are as undemocratic as North Korea in the 21th century. Who can believe North Korea’s talk of sovereignty and peace when it lies so much?

The South Korean government must do its best to secure the safety of South Koreans in the business complex, while calmly dealing with the North’s threats. Rather than provoking the Pyongyang, Seoul should cooperate with the international community to get the detained people home.