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North Korea blames South for deteriorating ties

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[November 14, 2008]  SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea blamed Seoul for a sharp deterioration in relations after years of detente, accusing South Korea's conservative president Friday of wanting neither reunification nor dialogue.

Relations between the two Koreas, which fought a devastating war in 1950-53 and remain divided by the world's most heavily fortified border, reached a new low this week with North Korea's military announcing it will halt border crossings Dec. 1.

RestaurantThe ban could force dozens of South Korean factories operating at an industrial park in the North to shut down -- a symbolic rejection of South Korean efforts since 2000 to foster reconciliation through commerce.

South Korea's government said it urged the North not to stop development of the lucrative industrial zone.

But President Lee Myung-bak has not done what North Korea wants: reaffirm joint agreements made by the previous, liberal South Korean administration -- including one prohibiting propaganda.

South Korean activists continue to send leaflets critical of North Korea across the border in huge balloons, much to the North Korean military's anger. The North calls it a violation of a 2004 pact the two countries signed prohibiting propaganda; Lee's government says the activists are protected by freedom of speech.

"The Lee group wants neither dialogue nor reunification. What they want is to deliberately deteriorate the north-south relations, perpetuate the division of the country and stand in (a) showdown with fellow countrymen," the North Korean newspaper Minju Joson, considered a government mouthpiece, said in commentary Friday.


Former President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to nurture relations with the North, warned that the two Koreas stand on the cusp of reconciliation -- or catastrophe.

"The South-North relations are now standing at a crossroads -- either racing toward a collapse or reconciliation," he told the newspaper Hankook Ilbo in an interview published Friday. "I'm deeply worried about the situation."

The North Korean military announced Wednesday it will "restrict and cut off" traffic through the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas -- the culmination of a series of warnings in recent weeks.

A week ago, a high-level North Korean military delegation paid a visit to the joint business park in Kaesong, with an official telling South Korean business managers to move out, according to a report in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

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"The North Korean military is making a statement," Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, said Friday. "First they sent a warning; now they have to act so they will be taken seriously," he said, calling it characteristic of North Korean strategy.

South Korean companies began setting up factories in Kaesong in 2004 at a time of warming relations between the two Koreas.

But ties have soured since Lee, a conservative the Minju Joson has described as "despicable human scum," took office in February, pledging to get tough with the North.

Ties deteriorated further in July when a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist visiting Diamond Mountain, another joint project in the North. Seoul since has banned tours to the popular resort.

The Kaesong complex, where South Korean factories employ some 35,000 North Koreans, has been a key source of currency for the impoverished North. There are no signs anyone is preparing to leave, one manager said Friday.

"There is no trouble running our factory here and the atmosphere is OK," Kim Hyun-woo, a South Korean manager at cookware maker Sonoko Cuisine Ware, told The Associated Press by telephone.

[Associated Press; By JEAN H. LEE]

Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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