[EDITORIALS]Power lines at the border

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[EDITORIALS]Power lines at the border

Korea Electric Power Corp. has reportedly completed construction of power lines in northern Gyeonggi province near the border with North Korea, and it is believed to be working on the replacement of a power relay station in the area. The government said the works are intended to meet the expected increase in power demand in the Paju area. But the opposition Grand National Party asserted, based on documents it obtained from the power corporation, that the project is meant to supply power to the industrial areas in Gaeseong in North Korea.

The government said the project is unrelated to the North's request in December 2000 for 500,000 kilowatts of electricity. But the project's timing raises suspicion that it is in fact related. Building 13.9 kilometers of power line between the Geumchon and Munsan districts of Paju at a cost of 8.5 billion won ($7.1 million) coincided with the period from July 1999 to December 2000. That was when background discussions for a North-South summit were under way, leading to a heightened sense of reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas after the successful summit meeting.

It is not impossible that the project was used as a "carrot" in the government's effort to bring off the summit meeting. Suspicion is also fueled by North Korea's claim, albeit unofficial, that power supply was a promised item of assistance that has not been met. Another possibility is that Seoul may have been trying to avoid drawing U.S. attention to the matter, which might have fueled concern that assistance to North Korea could be diverted for military use.

The government must disclose the intentions behind the power project. There is little debate that this adminsitration's accomplishments in pursuit of reconciliation with the North exceed those of previous governments. But this recognition is clouded by the suspicion that much of the effort has been far from transparent and without national consensus. It would be counterproductive for this government to arouse as much suspicion as recognition just because it has neglected to build consensus for its policy. Assistance to the North must be based on open discussion and transparent decisions.

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