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S Korea leader's 'swish of skirt' criticised

13 March 2013, 14:49

Seoul — North Korea's first public, senior-level mention of South Korea's first female president ended up being a sexist crack. The body that controls Pyongyang's military complained on Wednesday about the "venomous swish" of her skirt.

But despite that swipe, and a continuing torrent of rhetoric from Pyongyang threatening nuclear war and other mayhem, President Park Geun-hye is sticking by her campaign vow to reach out to North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-Un, and to send the country much-needed humanitarian aid.

Public frustration with the last five years of North-South relations, which saw North Korean nuclear tests, long-range rocket launches and attacks that left dozens of South Koreans dead, is a big part of the reason Park is trying to build trust with Pyongyang, even as she and South Korea's military promise to respond forcefully to any attack from the North.

Park's predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, infuriated North Korea by linking aid and concessions to what turned out to be nonexistent progress on North Korea's past commitments to abandon its atomic weapons ambitions. In doing so, he reversed past liberal governments' policy of providing huge aid shipments with few strings attached.

Like Lee, Park is a member of South Korea's main conservative party, but she has promised to find a middle ground by re-engaging Pyongyang through aid shipments, reconciliation talks and the resumption of some large-scale economic initiatives as progress occurs on the nuclear issue. Park has also held out the possibility of a summit with Kim Jong-Un.

Park's point man on North Korea, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, said this week that regardless of the political situation, South Korea intends to eventually send humanitarian aid shipments for infants and other vulnerable people in North Korea.

Setting the tone

Ryoo said South Korea won't accept North Korea's nuclear development or any provocations and called for a dialogue between the countries to improve strained ties.

The Unification Ministry said on Wednesday that South Korea hasn't started discussing when to start making shipments, what aid items might be sent and how much it will send.

Park's North Korea policy is of keen interest not only on the Korean Peninsula but also among officials in Washington, Beijing and Tokyo. Analysts believe her course will set the initial tone for new North Korea policy in those capitals.

Park's officials have also kept a wary eye on North Korea's recent threats in the wake of UN sanctions last week over Pyongyang's third nuclear test. The bellicose rhetoric is seen by outsiders as an attempt to boost loyalty for Kim Jong-Un and to win aid from Seoul and Washington.

On Wednesday, an unidentified spokesperson for the North's National Defence Commission's armed forces ministry repeated North Korean vows from recent days of a "merciless retaliation" over ongoing US-South Korean military drills. The statement also reiterates another North Korean promise to no longer abide by the armistice that ended the Korean War.

Park, the daughter of late South Korean dictator President Park Chung-hee, took office on 25 February.

"This frenzy kicked up by the South Korean warmongers is in no way irrelevant with the venomous swish of skirt made by the one who again occupies" the presidential Blue House, the North said in its statement. There had been no high-level mention of her since the day before she was elected on 19 December. The references didn't mention her by name.

Park lived in the Blue House as a girl and, starting from age 22, served for five years as her father's first lady after a gunman claiming orders from North Korea killed her mother in a botched attack targeting Park Chung-hee.

- AP


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