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Tuesday, August 22, 2000
Friendship, cooperation bywords
on Korean Peninsula these days

By Jim Lea
Osan bureau chief

PYONGTAEK, South Korea - As relations continue to warm between the two Koreas, President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea is studying how to amend laws forbidding South Koreans from speaking too kindly of their northern neighbor.

For the last five decades, South Koreans who dared to utter any form of praise about North Korea placed themselves squarely in harm's way.

The 47,000 square miles north of the Demilitarized Zone was as evil an empire to South Korea as the Soviet Union ever was to the United States. And anyone who spoke too kindly or too publicly about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea could find themselves behind bars for months or even years for violating Seoul's National Security Law.

That law is still on the books. Many South Koreans hope Kim will abolish it, not merely amend it.

Prosecutors already are finding judges less and less prone to authorize arrest warrants for alleged violators.

"Judges are allowing arrest orders in only very serious cases that involve violence or are very clearly (aimed) at bringing down the government. We haven't had many of those lately," said a Seoul attorney. "The judges are beginning to feel that the law doesn't fit the times."

Between the two Koreas, the mood is one of friendship and cooperation, a sharp divergence from the mistrustful sentiments that have dominated the peninsula for the last half century.

The Joint Declaration signed June 14, during a three-day summit meeting between the South's Kim and the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, was the trigger that unleashed the current changes.

And things have moved quickly since.

A resumption of dialogue between the two Koreas was the first of the Joint Declaration's five points to be realized. It was held two weeks ago in Seoul, and one of its decisions was carried out last week.

Both Koreas reopened liaison offices at Panmunjom, the Korean War truce village 33 miles north of Seoul. The offices originally opened in 1992 but closed four years later when then-budding relations between Seoul and Pyongyang soured, after a North Korean submarine infiltrated the South.

The second of the Joint Declaration's five points began Tuesday. A North Korean jet liner landed at Seoul's Kimpo International Airport, bringing 100 aged North Koreans for visits to their relatives in the South. At nearly the same time, a South Korean Asiana Air Lines jet landed at Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport and 100 South Koreans deplaned for visits with relatives they have not seen in five decades.

With the single exception of unification itself, the reunions have for years been the most-hoped-for event by most Koreans. The North's Kim told the news executives that people taking part in future reunions will be able to visit their hometowns. Currently, reunions are taking place only in Seoul and Pyongyang.

Kim said he, too, will make a visit to the South "as soon as possible," Korean media reported.

Tourism and Culture Minister Park Jie-won, who accompanied the media to Pyongyang, reported that Kim also wants a number of South Korean entertainers to visit the North soon.

Other decisions made at the minister-level meeting in Seoul two weeks ago also are moving ahead very quickly. Work to restore the rail link between the two Koreas is to begin with a ground-breaking Sept. 12, the Korean Thanksgiving celebrated on both sides of the border.

Soldiers on both sides of the DMZ first will have to remove many of the estimated 1 million landmines there. Work on rebuilding the 20 miles of track linking North and South is expected to be completed in about one year, the South Korean government has said.

Final preparations also are being made for the South and North Korean teams attending the Sydney, Australia, Olympics later this summer to take part jointly in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games. A common uniform for both teams is being designed for those cermonies.

But one of the most apparent changes is the amount of newspaper space being devoted to Kim Jong Il. He has become the man of the hour.

On Aug. 14, Seoul newspapers had at least one story on Kim, all gleaned from his meeting last week with the news executives.

Some of the things the stories said were:


    He sleeps only four hours a night, a regimen acquired when he was chief secretary to his late father, President Kim Il Sung.

    He stays in shape by swimming and horseback riding.

    He has been watching South Korean television since 1979 and prefers the state-operated Korean Broadcasting System "because it doesn't run commercials."

    He is a wine connoisseur and says, "French is the world's best."

    If he had not "become a politician, (he) would have become a movie commentator or producer."

That, after years of categorizing - and castigating - him as a womanizer who spends a good deal of his country's money on fast cars, expensive liquor and lavish parties while many of his people starve to death, is a real change.

Bae Gi-chul contributed to this report.

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