S. Korea President-Elect Vows to Change N. Korea Policy

South Korea's first conservative president-elect in a decade intends to find a solution to North Korea's human rights problems among others.

At his first press conference since his landslide victory Wednesday, Lee Myung-bak noted how previous governments "unilaterally appeased the North Korean regime."

"However," he said Thursday, "that will now change."

Lee said he would not shy away from criticizing North Korea's authoritarian regime, stating that unconditionally avoiding criticism of North Korea would not be appropriate.

"I will criticize North Korea if necessary," he affirmed.

"Constructive criticism will make Pyongyang healthier in the end," the former Hyundai CEO 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."

Critics of North Korea have expressed grave concern over the continuing reports of systemic, widespread and serious violations of human rights there as well as the government's refusal to cooperate with the U.N. human rights commissioner or special investigator.

North Korea has also been criticized for its all pervasive and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, religion, assembly and movement, its imposition of the death penalty for political reasons, the detention of thousands in prison camps, the punishment and torture of border-crossers, and the maltreatment of people with disabilities.

Citizens of the communist state are reportedly forced to adhere to a personality cult that revolves around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.

At Thursday's press conference at the Korea Press Foundation, South Korea president-elect Lee suggested setting human rights as a high priority in the government's policy on North Korea and said his administration will improve relations with United States and Asian countries under the banner of smart diplomacy.

Lee also pledged to work for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and said the divided Koreas can open a new era of cooperation through demilitarization.

"The most important thing is for North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons," he said. "The North's abandonment of its nuclear programs is the way for the North to develop" its economy, Lee added.

"Full-fledged economic exchanges can start after North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons."

After winning 48.7 percent of the vote Wednesday with the largest margin of victory ever in a South Korean presidential election, Lee reportedly offered a thanksgiving service at his private residence with members of the Church in attendance.

"I was able to be entrusted with this duty under the guidance of God," he said, specifically thanking the members of a local Presbyterian church for their prayers.

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