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[Editorial] Release of the Detained Hyundai Worker

Posted June. 06, 2009 08:21,   


South and North Korea will hold working-level talks Thursday on issues surrounding the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong. Proposed by the North, the meeting will be the first between both sides since they cut off communication after the first meeting April 21. Attention is on whether the meeting will pave the way for reopening dialogue at a time when inter-Korean tension has peaked. The North has conducted missile and nuclear tests and made threats of military aggression, while the South has announced its entry into the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative.

The industrial complex is a project North Korea can ill afford to give up. The facility employs some 40,000 North Koreans and generates more than 30 million U.S. dollars for the North every year. If Pyongyang wants to revive its dilapidated economy through foreign investment, it must show the world its potential by ensuring the successful operation of the complex. Nevertheless, the North unilaterally revoked inter-Korean agreements to lose its credibility in the international community. Worse, it has frequently shut off passage of South Koreans to and from the complex and tried to exploit it for political gains.

If the complex is to operate seamlessly, the most important matter is guaranteeing the safety of South Korean workers in the complex. Nonetheless, the North has detained a Hyundai Asan Corp. worker for 69 days as of today without specific cause, and has remained silent on his safety. It has also broken a basic agreement on guaranteeing “non-disenfranchisement of the right to body, residence and ownership and assuring the basic rights of South Koreans under probe.” If Pyongyang wants to keep the complex running, it must release the worker before starting discussion on other issues.

The North yesterday held the trial of two American journalists whom it arrested 13 days before the Hyundai Asan worker. The trial was held without observers and the verdict was not known immediately. The journalists have been allowed to speak to officials from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang three times and phone their families in the United States. The face of the detained worker, however, has never been shown. This sums up the reality of North Korea, which has repeatedly urged unity by the Korean people.

Pyongyang should know that its plots and bullying will not work with the Lee Myung-bak government in Seoul, which has marked its 15th month in office. For the two Koreas to reopen channels for compromise and cooperation and for the North to end its international isolation, Pyongyang must show a sincere attitude in handling the fate of the detained worker. However difficult the situation may be, Seoul must never be controlled by the North’s unilateral behavior of both rashness and irrationality as shown in not following inter-Korean agreements.