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S. Korean President Replaces Three Cabinet Members - 2004-06-30

South Korea's president has made changes to his cabinet, including installing a new politician to head the politically important Unification Ministry.

President Roh Moo-hyun replaced the ministers of unification, health, and culture on Wednesday, appointing members of the governing Uri Party.

The most significant change is at the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of ties with North Korea - with which the South remains technically at war.

The new Unification Minister, 51-year-old Chung Dong-young, was a television journalist before becoming a politician. He replaces Jeong Se-hyun.

Mr. Chung has made no secret of his ambition to succeed Mr. Roh as the next president.

Katy Oh, a fellow of the Brooking Institution and a researcher at the U.S. Institute for Defense Analysis, says the Unification Ministry was a much-desired prize for Mr. Chung.

"The Unification Ministry is a very strategic ministry that anybody can make his name very well known and also position himself as a strategic thinker to deal with so-called most important foreign policy for most Koreans - the South-North relationship," she said. "It was a hotly contested and desirable post and he got it."

Mr. Chung ran into controversy before parliamentary elections earlier this year, by saying older voters should stay away from the polls to let younger voters dominate. The comment was seen as a huge gaffe, since Korean society traditionally honors the elderly, and Mr. Chung resigned as the Uri Party's chief campaign manager and withdrew as a parliamentary candidate.

The new health minister in the left-of-center government is veteran dissident Kim Keun-tae. The 57-year-old lawmaker also is considered a potential successor to President Roh.

Chung Dong-chea, a 53-year-old former journalist, replaces Lee Chang-dong as culture minister.

South Korea's National Assembly on Tuesday approved Lee Hai-chan as prime minister. The Uri Party lawmaker replaces Goh Kun, who resigned last month.

The new prime minister, who spent four years in jail in the 1980s as a democracy activist, is expected to be the main liaison between the president and the Uri Party leadership, which has been at odds with Mr. Roh on several issues.