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South Korean Government Urged to Address Allegations of Bribing North Korea for Summit - 2003-02-03

South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun is calling for the current government to address allegations that it bribed North Korea to hold the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000. But Mr. Roh says while the truth needs to be aired, any inquiry should be careful not to damage fragile ties with the communist North.

South Korea's future leader Roh Moo-hyun Monday urged the incumbent government of President Kim Dae-jung to clear up a scandal over an alleged pay-off to communist North Korea ahead of the two nations' historic summit more than two and a half years ago.

But Mr. Roh, who takes office on February 25, says prosecutors should not expand their investigation because it could negatively affect ties with North Korea. Instead, he says the issue should be referred to the legislature and the outgoing administration should provide more details to lawmakers.

Government auditors confirmed last Thursday that the Hyundai conglomerate - which has close ties to the government - spent 186-million dollars in the North shortly before the summit. The funds were obtained from a South Korean state-run bank.

Auditors say how the money was spent remains unclear, but they have no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Hyundai has a number of business and tourism projects in the North, which are intended to encourage better inter-Korean relations.

Opposition lawmakers are calling for a probe by an independent counsel and want prosecutors to question President Kim and his aides. Mr. Kim and officials from Hyundai have denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Kim won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his so-called sunshine policy of engaging the North, including arranging the summit in Pyongyang with the North's reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il.

The summit produced landmark pledges to work towards eventual reunification through a series of confidence building measures and joint projects.

Concerns over the scandal have flared in the midst of an international dispute over North Korea's illegal nuclear programs, which have complicated rocky inter-Korean relations.

President-elect Roh has sent an envoy to Washington on to discuss the North Korea nuclear issue. The envoy, lawmaker Chyung Dai-chul, is scheduled to hold talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other high-ranking U.S. officials. He will then go to Japan to meet with officials there. South Korea, as well as the United States and Japan, hope to find a diplomatic solution to get North Korea to honors its agreements to remain nuclear free.

Since October, when the United States accused North Korea of covertly developing nuclear weapons, the government in Pyongyang has taken a series of public steps to reactivate facilities, which could produce nuclear arms.