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South Korea's Roh Makes Historic Border Crossing to North

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Tuesday made a historic walk across the heavily-fortified border with North Korea to attend a summit with Kim Jong Il. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, few details are known about the North Korean leader's welcoming plans.

South Korean officials say President Roh Moo-hyun's historic overland trip into North Korea Tuesday will not be on four tires - but on two feet.

Mr. Roh is expected to step out of his car at the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea.  After some short remarks, he plans to cross into the North on foot.  The vehicle convoy will then resume its route to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Fifty seven years after North Korea invaded the South, the two countries remain technically at war.  A 1953 armistice stopped three years of fighting.  It is the basis for a tense détente along the heavily fortified, 248-kilometer, North-South border.

President Roh says reaching a more permanent peace is the main reason he is going to Pyongyang.

He says if the summit discussions are serious, he is willing to talk about improving military relations, a peace treaty, and even disarmament.

Mr. Roh has already said the North's nuclear weapons will receive little attention at the meeting.  He says multinational talks in Beijing are adequately addressing that issue.  Delegates to those talks are expected to reveal a draft agreement this week for dismantling the North's weapons programs by the end of the year.

Mr. Roh is not scheduled to meet Kim Jong Il on the first day of his trip.  He is to attend a welcoming luncheon with Kim Yong Nam, who presides over the North's parliament.  But, South Korean Vice Unification Minister Lee Kwan-sei points out the North's leader has a history of departing from the schedule.

He says during the 2000 summit, nothing in the formal agenda indicated Kim Jong Il would personally greet then-President Kim Dae-jung at his airport arrival.  He does not rule out the possibility Mr. Roh may receive some form of unscheduled welcome by the North's leader.

President Roh is expected to join Kim Jong Il at the North's Arirang festival.  The show's thousands of performers have historically put on a massive propaganda spectacle.  However, South Korean officials say, this time, Pyongyang is deleting references to military might and nuclear weapons.

President Roh has been under robust criticism here in South Korea, where experts point to the fact that his presidency will end in about two months.  North Korea expert Nam Sung-wook is an advisor to former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak, the opposition candidate who is the overwhelming frontrunner to succeed Mr. Roh.  Nam says North Korea is eager to prevent a victory by Lee, who some expect might pursue a less accommodating policy toward the North.

Nam says North Korea has rejected countless offers of a summit, but has decided to accept now just months before a presidential election.  He dismisses the summit as a performance aimed at influencing South Korean politics.  

President Roh and his political allies have supported a minimally critical and generous policy of engagement with the North, which has resulted in the transfer of billions of dollars in aid and investment to Pyongyang.

 

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