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[In dspth interview]Retired general wants North apology

Issues such as the grieving families who were separated during the war, injured soldiers who are still suffering in their sickbeds and kidnapped soldiers still remain unresolved.

Oct 17,2007
Park Seh-jik, the chairman of Korea Veterans Association, recently told the JoongAng Ilbo the future of the veterans’ association is in the pursuit of progressive conservatism, attuned to changes over time.
The Korea Veterans Association celebrated its 55th anniversary on Oct. 8.
The 74-year-old chairman added that the South Korean government, in a solid alliance with the United States, should cooperate closely with the United Nations Command before establishing a peace system and announcing the end of the war with North Korea.
“To keep the balance of military power between the two Koreas, North Korea should first surrender its nuclear weapons program and there should also be a gradual reduction of conventional forces,” Park said.
In evaluating the meetings between the heads of the two Koreas, the retired major general had this to say:
“Although there are some expectations, it is difficult to wipe out our concerns. We can not agree to the June 15 joint declaration that assumes a low-level unification while leaving out any responsible explanation or compensation from North Korea, which started the Korean War.
“In particular, although half a century has gone by since the tragic war, issues such as the grieving families who were separated during the war, injured soldiers who are still suffering in their sickbeds and kidnapped soldiers still remain unresolved,” the chairman said.
Park was referring to the June 15 joint declaration at the 2000 summit, when then-President Kim Dae-jung made his historic visit to Pyongyang, the first by a South Korean leader since the national division.
“However, we should view the progressive talks between the heads of both Koreas and efforts to establish peace on the peninsula as positive,” Park said.
He hopes that the process of following up on the declaration, including high-level official talks at the prime minister level, should be executed transparently.
“Announcing the end of the conflict is closely connected with the issue of establishing a peace agreement,” Park said.
In order to establish a peace accord, Park said, North Korea should first apologize and resolve the question of compensation for the war and the issue of kidnapped South Korean soldiers to bring closure to the standoff between the North and the South.
Additionally, there should be close cooperation with the United States and the United Nations Command for the peace agreement, Park said, with international approval from neighboring countries such as China.
“The point that North Korea is demanding the withdrawal of U.S. military forces stationed in South Korea should certainly be noted during the negotiation of the peace agreement,” Park said.
“The U.S. forces stationed in South Korea have a role not only in securing the safety of South Korea, but also in balancing military security in North Asia,” he said.
The most necessary precondition for establishing a peace system on the peninsula, Park said, is military balance between the two Koreas.
“Based on the precondition, military trust as well as military preparedness control must follow,” Park said. “For the future and peace of the peninsula, North Korea’s possession of nuclear armament should never be accepted.”
Park stressed that North Korea should give up on its unrelenting communization strategy on South Korea while changing the inhumane character of its regime by reforming the Workers Party system.
Park strongly opposes designating the Yellow Sea Northern Limit Line as a joint fishing zone.
“We are currently in a situation where the war has to end,” Park said, “but a peace system has not been set up yet. It could hugely affect security.”
“The issue should have been dealt with after the existence of the Northern Limit Line was acknowledged at the defense minister-level talks,” Park said. “We should have obtained consent and cooperation from the United Nations Command first.”
President Roh Moo-hyun’s recent remarks [made after this interview] that the Northern Limit Line, which had served as a de facto border between the two Koreas since 1953, is not a territorial border but a military division, stirred up strong protests from the veterans’ association.
Last year, the veterans’ association was vocal in opposing the turnover of wartime command responsibility over South Korean forces from the United States to South Korea. Park and his colleagues still oppose the move today.
“Creating a defense system jointly with a superpower through an alliance is a preeminent strategy,” Park said. “Such an efficient system, that has prevented war for more than 50 years, should not be let go.
“Disbanding the U.S.-ROK alliance will lead to the disappearance of a commitment of reinforcement to have up to 690,000 soldiers on the ground,” Park said.
The chairman said the veterans’ association is continuing to demand the withdrawal of the early turnover of wartime command responsibility.
“We are currently on a campaign to collect signatures from 10 million people opposing the early turnover,” Park said.
“Our goal is to help the public understand the issue of an early turnover; it is not an issue of national pride or sovereign national defense but the most efficient defense system.”
The Korea Veterans Association, founded on Feb. 1, 1952 with 30,000 discharged soldiers, became a legally authorized organization on July 19, 1963.
The private organization receives an annual outlay of 40 billion won from the national budget.
Park is a native of Gumi, North Gyeongsang.
He graduated from the Korea Military Academy in the 1950s and worked as a professor at the country’s premier military training institution and later worked in the government.

By Kang Min-seok JoongAng Ilbo



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