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N. Korea leader's unprecedented olive branch

With his conciliatory speech, Kim Jong-un strikes a contrast with his father and predecessor, who never made any such gesture.

N. Korea leader's unprecedented olive branch
Justin McCurry

January 1, 2013

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The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has called for better ties with South Korea in a rare new year broadcast, and warned that history had shown that continued confrontation would lead to "nothing but war".

Kim, addressing the country on state media after it successfullylaunched a long-range rocket that many believe was a cover for a missile test, was the first North Korean leader to deliver a new year broadcast since his grandfather – and the country's founder – Kim Il-sung, in 1994.

His father, Kim Jong-il, who died just over a year ago, rarely spoke in public.

"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the north and the south," he said in Tuesday's address, which appeared to have been pre-recorded at an undisclosed location.

"The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war."

The conciliatory tone is being seen as an early attempt to reach out to the South's incoming leader, Park Geun-hye, who takes office in February as the country's first female president.

North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-1953 conflict ended with an armistice, but not a peace treaty. They are separated by the demilitarised zone, one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

But analysts cautioned that Kim's apparent desire for detente after five years of deteriorating ties under the South's hardline president, Lee Myung-bak, did not necessarily mark a major shift in North Korean thinking.

Kim's statement "apparently contains a message that he has an intention to dispel the current face-off [between the two Koreas], which could eventually be linked with the North's call for aid" from South Korea, Kim Tae-woo of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul told Reuters.

"But such a move does not necessarily mean any substantive change in the North Korean regime's policy towards the South."

In echoes of the military-first philosophy developed by his father, Kim said: "The military might of a country represents its national strength. Only when it builds up its military might in every way can it develop into a thriving country."

However, he did indicate that he would focus on raising living standards in a country heavily dependent on China for aid and where an estimated third of its 24 million people are malnourished.

He said the North should devote as much energy to strengthening the economy as it had done to developing its rocket programme, which it insists is for the peaceful exploration of space. "Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space."

Source: The Guardian
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