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South Korean President Announces New Cabinet - 2002-01-29

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has announced a cabinet reshuffle, aimed at reviving stalled talks with communist North Korea and to ease public concern over a string of corruption scandals involving high-ranking officials.

President Kim Tuesday replaced eight ministers, including the minister in charge of improving relations with North Korea. Mr. Kim named veteran North Korean affairs expert, Jeong Se-hyun, to replace Hong Soon-young as unification minister, a move that was not wholly unexpected.

Mr. Hong who was appointed unification minister just four months ago had been under severe pressure to step down after inter-Korean cabinet-level talks broke down in November. During the talks, North Korean officials accused Minister Hong of being a hard-liner. Pyongyang later hinted that dialogue with Seoul would not resume as long as Mr. Hong remained in the post.

South Korean political analyst Yu Suk-ryul in Seoul says the new unification minister, who served a year as vice unification minister in the late 1990s, is seen as being more supportive of President Kim's so-called "sunshine policy" of engagement with the communist North. I think the new minister, Jeong Se-hyun, is not a hard-liner. He's a liberal. I think he will go with the government line to make North Korea happy," Mr. Yu said.

Anticipating a positive North Korean response to the change, South Korea almost simultaneously asked the North Tuesday to arrange another round of reunions of families separated by a half-century of conflict.

Following the historic meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas in June, 2000, three reunions have been held for 300 family members. The reunions were part of a series of confidence-building measures that have been sidelined by the stalled momentum in improving North-South relations.

But mounting public pressure in South Korea to get more concessions from the North, is partly responsible for stalling inter-Korean dialogue for more than a year.

President Kim's cabinet reorganization also comes amid allegations of corruption and cronyism in his government. One of the latest scandals involved the president's nephew.

South Korea's prime minister and finance and economy minister have retained their posts. But six key presidential secretaries have been replaced.