Rhee’s group wants to focus on unification issues

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Rhee’s group wants to focus on unification issues

A group of Saenuri Party lawmakers formed a circle to improve strained inter-Korean relations and boost cross-border cooperation under the Park Geun-hye administration.

Relations between the two Koreas appeared to have improved since the resumption of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in September. But North Korea cancelled much-anticipated reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, apparently because the South was not moving fast enough to restart tours to the Mount Kumgang Resort.

Some 30 lawmakers of the ruling party launched a Group Promoting Unification of the divided Koreas. They include Representative Rhee In-je, a heavyweight, six-term lawmaker.

“We reached consensus that our party should play a pivotal role in pushing unification forward in a peaceful way by boosting overall inter-Korean cooperation and interactions,” Representative Won Yoo-chul, the official head of the group, said in a speech yesterday. “We are pretty confident that this group will be highly dedicated to helping resolve a bunch of chronic issues such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, tours to the Mount Kumgang Resort, reunions of separated families and the plan for building a peace park in the Demilitarized Zone.”

Representative Yi Wan-young, who was named manager of the group, denied speculation that this group was actually intended to help Rhee, an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1997, to run in the party’s next leadership election.

“This group was actually proposed by Won and myself,” Yi said. “It was formed by lawmakers who genuinely want to dedicate themselves to an early unification.”

Rhee, a judge-turned-lawmaker, entered the political arena by winning a seat in the 13th legislative election in 1988 for the ruling Democratic Liberty Party, a predecessor of the Saenuri Party. He came to prominence as the youngest labor minister ever in the Kim Young-sam administration in 1993 and also won the Gyeonggi governorship in 1995.

Rhee defected from the ruling party in 1997 after he lost in the primaries against Lee Hoi-chang for the presidential candidacy. He ran again after creating his own People’s New Party. He and Lee lost to Kim Dae-jung.

He joined the Millennium Democratic Party, a predecessor of the Democratic Party, and ran in its presidential primary in 2002 but lost to Roh Moo-hyun. In 2011, Rhee joined the Liberty Forward Party, a minor conservative party, but the party merged with the Saenuri Party in 2012.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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