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Korean relations reach a new low

The North blames President Lee Myung-bak for letting reconciliation efforts fall by the wayside.

November 16, 2008|Jean H. Lee | Lee writes for the Associated Press.

SEOUL — North Korea has blamed Seoul for a sharp deterioration in relations after years of detente, accusing South Korea's conservative president of wanting neither reunification nor dialogue.

Relations between the two Koreas, which fought a devastating war in 1950-53 and remain divided by the world's most heavily fortified border, reached a new low this week with North Korea's military announcing it will halt border crossings Dec. 1.

The ban could force dozens of South Korean factories operating at an industrial park in the North to shut down -- a symbolic rejection of South Korean efforts since 2000 to foster reconciliation through commerce.

South Korea's government said it urged the North not to stop development of the lucrative industrial zone.

But South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has not done what North Korea wants: reaffirm joint agreements made by the previous, liberal South Korean administration -- including one prohibiting propaganda.

South Korean activists continue to send leaflets critical of North Korea across the border in huge balloons, much to the North Korean military's anger. The North calls it a violation of a 2004 pact the two countries signed prohibiting propaganda; Lee's government says the activists are protected by freedom of speech.

"The Lee group wants neither dialogue nor reunification. What they want is to deliberately deteriorate the north-south relations, perpetuate the division of the country and stand in [a] showdown with fellow countrymen," the North Korean newspaper Minju Joson, considered a government mouthpiece, said in commentary Friday.

Former President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in nurturing relations with the North, warned that the two Koreas stand on the cusp of reconciliation -- or catastrophe.

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Writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report.

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