S Korea says reunification with North not long off

South Korea`s president has declared that the reunification of Korea is drawing near.

Last Updated: Dec 11, 2010, 00:34 AM IST

Seoul: South Korea`s president has
declared that the reunification of Korea is drawing near - a
surprising statement at a time of soaring tensions on the
divided peninsula.

While a single Korea is the stated goal of both the
communist North and the democratic South, it has seemed a
faraway dream this year, which saw an alleged North Korean
attack on a South Korean warship, an announcement by Pyongyang
that it is expanding its nuclear programmes and, most
recently, the shelling of a South Korean island two weeks ago.

In the wake of the Nov. 23 artillery assault on the
South`s Yeonpyeong Island, both sides have raised the
temperature on the peninsula by trading angry barbs and
threats of retribution. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
has not shied away from tough rhetoric, as he looked to
deflect criticism that his military`s response to the shelling
was too weak.

Today, North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun
stoked tensions further, accusing South Korea and the US of
pursuing a policy of hostility and confrontation and
reiterating that Pyongyang needs its nuclear programme to fend
them off.

"We once again feel convinced that we have made the
right choice in strengthening our defences with the nuclear
deterrent," he said, according to an interview with the
Russian news agency Interfax.

Still, twice this week, during a trip to Malaysia, Lee
has expressed optimism that reunification is not long off.

"North Korea now remains one of the most belligerent
nations in the world," Lee said in the interview published
today in The Star, a Malaysian newspaper. But, he added, it`s
a "fact that the two Koreas will have to coexist peacefully
and, in the end, realise reunification."

In a speech yesterday night, Lee made similar remarks,
saying that North Koreans have become increasingly aware that
the South is better off. He did not elaborate on how their
knowledge has expanded, but he said it was "an important
change that no one can stop."

PTI