[FOUNTAIN]A supporting player who actually isn’t

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[FOUNTAIN]A supporting player who actually isn’t

Lim Dong-ok, deputy director of the United Front Department of the North Korean Workers’ Party, played what seemed to be a minor part in last week’s meeting between Unification Minister Chung Dong-young and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Mr. Lim received the order from Mr. Kim to resume the reunions of families separated by the Korean War. But despite this apparently minor role, Mr. Lim is quite influential.
During the South-North Red Cross meetings in the early 1970s, Mr. Lim was disguised as a reporter for a North Korean paper. South Korean officials first identified him as a working-level Pyongyang official, but he turned out to be the person in charge of the delegation. Back then, it was common for both Koreas to disguise their big guns as reporters. At a round of high-level talks in Seoul in 1992, 76 percent of the North’s delegation was actually agents who worked for the party’s United Front Department.
One Seoul official at a round of 1991 talks recalled Lim Dong-ok passing a note to the North’s then-prime minister, Yeon Hyung-muk. After reading the note, Mr. Yeon nodded at Mr. Lim. From the body language and the attentiveness with which Mr. Yeon read the note, it was clear that Mr. Lim was someone to which even the prime minister deferred, according to this official.
The United Front Department, which Mr. Lim heads, is at the core of North Korea’s plans to “revolutionize” the South; it has been supervising and controling North Korea’s strategy related to inter-Korean relations. But it has been observed that under Mr. Lim, the department has joined the side of those in Pyongyang who support dialogue over confrontation. That’s why there is significance in Kim Jong-il’s decision to include only Mr. Lim in his meeting with Mr. Chung. In doing so, Mr. Kim showed his support for dialogue. We place our hopes in Mr. Lim.
One thing that worries us is Pyongyang’s habit of breaking its word when the time comes to put words into action. If that habit prevails in the current sensitive situation, the results could be irreversible. We hope Mr. Lim will press for a change in behavior from the delegates coming to Seoul for ministerial-level talks.


by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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