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North Korea a No-Show Again at Talks With South Korea - 2004-08-31


North Korea, for a second time in recent months, has failed to appear at scheduled talks with South Korea. The communist state also has reportedly recalled its ambassador from Vietnam, which recently acted as a way-station for hundreds of North Korean defectors.

The latest boycott comes four weeks after North Korea scrapped another round of high-level talks. But Seoul is playing down Pyongyang's decision not to show up at Tuesday's economic talks.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul says it hopes Pyongyang will agree to hold discussions again soon to better cross-border relations.

On the agenda for Tuesday's meeting in Seoul were the construction of cross-border railways and a proposed North Korean industrial complex built with South Korean help. South Korea's foreign minister told reporters he believes the deadlock between the two neighbors is only temporary. Many analysts agree.

Professor Hideshi Takesada, at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo, says relations between Seoul and Pyongyang are in relatively good shape. He notes the ongoing talks on separated families and sports, as well as the fact the two Koreas marched together at the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics in Athens.

"The reason why North Korea canceled the economic meeting is North Korea tried to show dissatisfaction about the South Korean decision to welcome the refugees from North Korea," says Professor Takesada.

Last month, about 460 North Koreans flew to Seoul, after traveling through a Southeast Asian nation, apparently Vietnam. It was the biggest mass defection by North Koreans to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The North Korean government declared the refugees had been kidnapped in an act of terrorism by Seoul.

News reports from Seoul on Tuesday said North Korea has withdrawn its ambassador from the Southeast Asian nation involved. The reports did not identify the country, however. The South Korean government has not confirmed claims from those helping the refugees that they were in Vietnam before traveling to Seoul.

Professor Takesada says Hanoi's role in the defection came as a surprise to North Korea. "North Korean people believed that North Korean and Vietnamese relations is in good shape considering the past history - they fought together in Vietnam's wars," he says. "But I think this [reaction] is North Korean style to show dissatisfaction and to try to [have] influence on Vietnamese government."

North Korea has expressed anger about Seoul's refusal to allow South Koreans to visit Pyongyang in July for the 10th anniversary ceremonies of the death of Kim Il-sung.

The North also lashed out at the United States and South Korea after they began annual joint military drills last week.

A few weeks ago, North Korea also declined to attend an expected meeting in Beijing to prepare for multilateral talks to end its nuclear weapons programs. The nuclear talks are expected to be held in late September, but no date has been set.

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