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North wants joint volcano research

Church expert believes proposal may lead to warmer ties between the two Koreas

A caldera of Mt. Baekdu, a volcanic mountain on the board between the North and China  (photocourtesy of Kim Sung-o)
A caldera of Mt. Baekdu, a volcanic mountain on the board between the North and China (photocourtesy of Kim Sung-o)
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • March 18, 2011
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A North Korean proposal for a joint research project on a volcano in the North could kick-start renewed talks between the two Koreas, according to a Church expert on the communist state.

The Ministry of Unification in Seoul announced yesterday that the North has proposed joint research on Mount Baekdu, the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula, which lies on the border between North Korea and China.

Though the 2,744-meter mountain has been dormant since 1903, many geologists in China and South Korea believe it could erupt again soon. Some have even predicted it will erupt in 2014 or 2015.

The ministry said the North is looking to collaborate with South Korean experts with regard to on-site inspections, geological research and academic seminars.

Experts in the South think the sudden move is aimed at reopening dialogue, halted after the sinking of a South Korean warship and North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong-do island last year.

Father Baptist John Kim Hun-il, executive secretary of the Sub-committee for Aid to North Korea under the bishops' committee for reconciliation, said the move comes while the international community's attention is focused on events in Japan.

He speculated that the North is using the volcano issue to try to improve North-South ties and show it is sincere in future dialogue, which is a prerequisite for a meeting between the North and the US, Father Kim explained.

He said he expected the South would accept the proposal because the volcano issue is a major concern among North and South Koreans. It’s a practical issue that can avoid sensitive ones like nuclear disarmament, he said.

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