Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seoul and Washington hold divided Korean families reunions hostage

The sunken 'Cheonan' is casting its long shadow on reuniting Koreans separated by the Korean War.
The DPRK suggested beginning again such reunions after their suspension two years ago.
Kim Dae Jung's 'Sunshine Policy' paved the wayly for family reunions. In 2008, the new elected Lee Myung bek scrapped the program. The shift in South Korea's approach towards the North took on a hard tone.
With the damper on the 'Sunshine Policy' the good will between Seoul and Pyongyang lost its power. The mystery of a common Korean will toward eventual reunification departed on the wings of a revived Cold War on the divided peninsula.
Scenes of teary reunions of mothers and sons, fathers and daughters separated 60 years from one another gave way to renewed tensions between the DPRK and ROK.
Divided families once again became hostage to mutual recriminations and search for scapegoats, but the South's contempt for Kim Jong il far outweighed the North's need to assert feelings of hurt prestige and authority. The downward spiral could continue the separation and uncertain hopes of families ever seeing families again.
According to the Red Cross, 'about 80.000 South Koreans have yet to be reunited with their relatives in the North, and about 40 per cent of them are 80 or older'. So the longer reunions are delayed, the more death will claim them.
With the failure of the US' and South Korea's war of propaganda to condemn North Korea for sinking the ROK courvette 'Cheonan' in March 2010 in the court of world opinion, Pyongyang in a gesture to diminish recriminations offered to resume the family unions under the auspices of the Red Cross.
South Korea agreed. It couldn't do otherwise for fear that he would alienate a strong current in the ROK to reunite families. Lee Myung bek couldn't risk looking as though he was casting out of South Korea, Northerners who sought the safety of the South during the Korean War, specially not during an election year.
Thus, Kim Jong il's willingness to resume family reunions immediately ran aground. It foundered at present as to where they would take place.
South Korea wants them to be at Kumgang-san [Diamond Mountain], renowned for its beauty and tourism, but North Korea demurred. Pyongyang had put the site off limits for the last two years. In 2008, a South Korean woman tourist wandered close to an area the North considered out of bounds; a guard shot and killed her.
Seoul put a break on tourism there and the North responded by severely limited activity at the Kaesong Industrial Zone, a free trade zone for South Korean industries. And here the matter rests.
The opportunity for unspoiled negotiations becomes hazier yet by a third round of joint military exercises by the US and ROK since the sunken 'Cheonan'. They add a new and for the North a seemingly threatening dimension; they involve a 5 day 'anti submarine exercises' close to DPRK waters. The American military authority let it be known that these manoeuvres are 'designed to send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea'.
Pyongyang responded with threats as it always does. It cannot do otherwise, the more especially since the Korean Workers Party will soon be meeting to rubber stamp the successor to Kim Jong il.
But as GuamDiary has noted, North Korea, in spite of menacing words and the twist and turns in US and South Korean policy, has always looked for the chance to 'reconnect' with Washington and Seoul.
Joint military exercises seem to overtake a commonsense approach to thaw relations.
And although family reunions are not put off to the Greek kalends, it is surely the elderly and frail South Koreans and North Koreans who suffer, never knowing whether before they journey to the other side of the mountain, whether they will ever see long separated family.

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