Church Council Urges Seoul to Ease N. Korea Policy

The head of the World Council of Churches has urged the president of South Korea to ease his policy towards North Korea to better enable peace and reunification of the peninsula.

South Korea should not demand pre-conditions to be met before strengthening its relations with North Korea, contends the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, WCC's general-secretary, in his letter to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Instead, Seoul should respect the so-called "sunshine policy" of his predecessor, under which the two Korean governments had held two historic meetings.

"The 'engagement policy' with its emphasis on 'reconciliation and cooperation, peace and co-prosperity' initiated by the leadership of two successive South Korean governments contributed to the easing of tensions in the Korean Peninsula," Kobia wrote Tuesday.

"However, the new South Korean government's policy towards North Korea reflected in your inaugural speech of 'Denuclearization, Opening and Vision 3000' is cause for concern and disappointment as it negates the spirit of the joint declarations made by the two Koreas in the recent past," he claims.

Lee, South Korea's first conservative president-elect in a decade, said in December that he intends to change how previous governments "unilaterally appeased the North Korean regime."

He will confront and even criticize the North Korean government if needed, he pledged.

"Constructive criticism will make Pyongyang healthier in the end," the former Hyundai CEO and church deacon emphasized. "If we try to point out North Korea's shortcomings, with affection, I think that would go a long way toward improving North Korean society."

During the December press conference, he also suggested making human rights a high priority for the new government's policy towards North Korea, as well as working toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

Last week, North Korea took a major step in its denuclearization efforts when it handed over its long-awaited declaration on nuclear programs.

U.S. President George W. Bush after receiving the news had immediately called a press conference and announced his plans to remove North Korea from the list of states that sponsor terrorism and to lift some economic sanctions.

In response, Kobia said the WCC is "greatly encouraged" by both North Korea's denuclearization progress and Bush's intention to lift sanctions against the rogue state.

Yet he expressed concern that South Korea's policy towards the North was "potentially hindering" efforts of peace and reunification.

"On behalf of the World Council of Churches and its member constituencies all over the world…I urge you to take all possible measures to avoid any deterioration of inter-Korean relations," Kobia stated, noting that WCC members in South Korea are concerned about the administration's policy.

The World Council of Churches is an ecumenical fellowship of churches with 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other church bodies representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries.

The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), a WCC member based in South Korea, requested that the government to "abolish [its] antagonistic policy," to respect previous agreements, and to provide humanitarian aid including food assistance and economic cooperation to North Korea "without any condition."

However many people have criticized the "sunshine policy" for its unconditional support of an autocratic tyrant without any demands for change.

On Monday, the Unification Ministry in Seoul reported that North Korea refused corn aid from South Korea despite its acute food shortages, according to Bloomberg news. North Korean officials did not say why they declined the aid offer, the South Korean official said.

Also on Monday, the United Nations said it came to a new agreement with the communist state to feed more than 5 million people in the country. Among the contributors are five U.S. aid agencies that will deliver 100,000 tons of food over the next 12 months to feed more than a half-million people.

``This is a breakthrough program: the first U.S. bilateral food assistance to North Korea in eight years,'' Nancy Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps, which is co-leading the U.S. effort, in a statement.

The other agencies include Global Resource Services and the Christian groups World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, and Christian Friends of Korea.

The United States is the largest donor to the World Food Program's current aid program in North Korea, having pledged $38.9 million, according to the Washington Post.

International aid agencies are warning that North Korea may face another food shortage like the one in the mid-1990's where as many as 1 million people died from starvation.