North’s refusal to apologizePyongyang’s explanation for the unannounced release of water from a dam in the Imjin River has angered many South Koreans. The North said that the release of water was accidental due to excessive rain, but promised to provide timely warnings to the South in the future. The explanation it has provided for its behavior is hard to understand. In addition, it mentioned nothing about the six lives lost. It is in this regard that the government, which had to demand an explanation from the North, is now calling on Pyongyang to apologize and offer further explanation for its actions. Unless the dam was on the verge of a collapse, the North should have discharged the water over a longer period during the daytime.
Similar incidents have inflicted a substantial amount of property damage on South Korean fishermen several times in the past, so damage to the South was foreseeable this time around as well. Given that, we cannot dismiss the idea that Pyongyang may have taken such provocative action on purpose. The North’s military authorities as well as the Cabinet secretaries are taking control of all of the dams in the border region. We cannot help but wonder whether the accident was premeditated and whether it was carried out for political or military purposes.
In particular, the fact that the North has not said a single word about the human casualties we have incurred is a bigger problem. Regardless of the reasons behind the tragedy, the North’s dispassionate reaction to the deaths of these people, who were just out for a weekend break, makes no sense.
The grief of the bereaved families of those who died is apparent. Why does the North refuse to show even the slightest sign of regret for these losses? Is this what they mean when they use the phrase “between Koreans” in their speeches? In reality, they have had nothing to say, which indicates that the North’s callous cruelty in carrying out the unnecessary killing of civilians, as in the Korean Air Lines incident in 1987, remains unchanged.
In any case, the government should not move on from this accident without a proper resolution. It should demand a full and sincere explanation. In addition, it should devise measures to prevent similar accidents from happening again in the future. This means it will be necessary to advance South-North negotiations on the prevention of flood disasters along the Imjin River and to draw up precautionary measures in anticipation of other possible accidents.
During the 1990s, North Korea was afflicted with natural disasters and a cold spell. Tens of thousands of people died of starvation. Although these incidents occurred before inter-Korean relations took a favorable turn, all of South Korea was sympathetic to their plight. It was against this backdrop that the Sunshine Policy was able to be implemented.
In the nearly 10 years since then, the government and civilians have been able to provide the North with various types of aid, including food and fertilizer. In the past two years, as the North assumed a threatening stance against Seoul by conducting nuclear tests and missile experiments, aid from the South has decreased drastically but has not yet been completely interrupted. After the death of former President Kim Dae-jung, it was expected that the North’s growing policy of appeasement toward the South would contribute to improvements in inter-Korean relations. Furthermore, we had begun to see an increasing number of signs indicating that aid to the North would resume at full levels.
This accident has put a damper on what was beginning to look more like peace.