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Pyongyang seethes at Seoul’s push for N.K. human rights law

Pyongyang has been upping threats in response to the South Korean government’s move to enact laws aimed at improving human rights conditions in the North.

On its website, operated for propaganda purposes, the reclusive Pyongyang regime warned “sure and clear punishment” should Seoul enact the controversial set of laws.

South Korea’s right-wing Lee Myung-bak administration and the ruling party have been pushing a bill calling for improvement in the North’s bleak human rights situation during this month’s parliamentary session. The bill has been pending at a parliamentary subcommittee since February last year due to objections from the progressive main opposition party, which claims the move will provoke the North and sever ties.

North Korea has also threatened to suspend all communications with Seoul upon such a move.

The passage of the laws “would be an official declaration that South Korea does not acknowledge (the North’s) dignity, autonomy and socialist system,” the North’s main newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The controversial bill calls for establishment of an independent foundation devoted to improving the human rights situation in North Korea, appointment of a North Korean human rights ambassador, launching of an archive to investigate and collect human rights abuse cases in the North, and support for activities by North Korean human rights groups in the South and overseas.

The U.S. and Japan already have similar laws designed to support North Korean defectors and promote democracy in the reclusive nuclear-armed state.

The ironfisted Kim Jong-il regime in Pyongyang keeps its people isolated from outside news, especially about that related to the wealthier South.

North Korea has long been accused of human rights abuses, ranging from public execution and torture to unjust imprisonment of attempted defectors and political prisoners. Pyongyang accuses the U.S. and Seoul of making up stories to threaten its regime.

While the ruling bloc calls it Seoul’s responsibility to directly address the issue through the enactment of the laws, the main opposition Democratic Party said it would come up with an alternative bill focusing instead on humanitarian aid to the North.

During a meeting with ruling party lawmakers this week, Seoul’s pointman on North Korea repeated calls for prompt passage of the bill.

“The issue is not that of politics of ideology,” Unification Minister Hyun In-taek was quoted as saying during the meeting.

Also dampening the mood for resumption of multinational peace talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, nine North Koreans crossed the tense western sea border over the weekend in apparent defection, according to the Unification Ministry here.

Despite harsh punishment for defection, a growing number of North Koreans have been fleeing to the wealthier South, indicating the deepening food shortages and instability at home. More than 20,000 North Koreans are said to have defected since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a temporary armistice.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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