Seoul questions North Korea’s sincerity on peace talks

2011-04-29 09:00

Seoul – South Korea today questioned North Korea’s sincerity in offering peace talks and said the communist state could solve its food shortages by spending less on missiles and nuclear weapons.

The comments by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan were in response to an offer from the North’s leader, Kim Jong-Il, to hold unconditional talks, including a summit with his southern counterpart.

Former US president Jimmy Carter, speaking yesterday on his return from a peacemaking trip to Pyongyang, said the offer was made in a written “personal message” from leader Kim, which was read to his delegation.

“North Korea should first show sincerity about talks between South and North Korea if it really wants to improve relations,” minister Kim told a security forum.

The North, he said, “has recently launched a peace offensive, including through former Western leaders ... but we still don’t see its sincere willingness to improve inter-Korean relations”.

It should give up “its outdated tactic to win international assistance first by opening talks itself”, the minister said.

Carter and three other retired leaders visited Pyongyang to try to ease cross-border tensions, assess food shortages and push for denuclearisation.

Carter, at a Seoul press conference yesterday, pressed for the resumption of food aid to the North to avert what he and the other ex-leaders called a crisis.

He also accused the US and South Korea of a “human rights violation” for, in his view, withholding the aid for political reasons.

The South suspended its annual shipment of 400 000 tons of rice in 2008.

Conservative newspapers accused Carter of siding with the North or acting as the regime’s mouthpiece.

Kim did not respond to Carter’s charge directly, but said Seoul was wary of sending food that could support the regime.

The food shortage is “a chronic and structural problem”, the minister said.

“North Korea is asking for international food assistance while spending $400 million (R2.6 billion) to $500 million every year on nuclear and missile development, although its food shortages can be solved with only $200 million to $300 million,” he said.

Cross-border relations have been icy since the South accused the North of sinking a warship in March 2010, with the loss of 46 lives.

The North denies involvement but shelled a South Korean border island last November, killing four people, including civilians.

It says the attack was provoked by one of Seoul’s military drills.

The South says its neighbour should take responsibility for the two incidents before any substantial dialogue can take place.

Earlier today, activists floated leaflets attacking the North’s regime across the border, the first launch since the North threatened “merciless retaliation” against such protests.

At the Imjingak tourist site 50 protesters, including defectors, launched 200 000 leaflets slung under 10 large gas-filled balloons.

Timing devices were attached to scatter the bundles of leaflets north of the heavily fortified border.

They contained news of Arab uprisings and called for the overthrow of Kim Jong-Il’s regime.

The balloons also carried hundreds of DVDs, USB flash drives and $1 bills, an incentive for North Koreans to overcome fears of punishment and pick up the leaflets.

The North’s military last week stepped up threats against the launches, vowing to open fire at any place and at any time to halt what it calls a smear campaign.

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