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Cablegate: Ngos Call for Greater Engagement with North Korea

VZCZCXYZ0001
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #0255/01 0490933
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 180933Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7100
INFO RUCNKOR/KOREA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSFK SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS SEOUL 000255

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREF PREL EAID SOCI PINR ECON KN KS
SUBJECT: NGOS CALL FOR GREATER ENGAGEMENT WITH NORTH KOREA

REF: SEOUL 136

Sensitive but unclassified. Not for Internet distribution.

Summary
-------

1. (U) The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) at Kyungnam
University co-sponsored a human rights-focused North Korea
donors conference February 4-5 in Seoul. Ambassador Stephens
delivered opening remarks, highlighting the USG's commitment
to democracy, development, and human rights in the DPRK and
the importance of USG partnerships with the North Korean
refugee and NGO communities in the ROK. Ambassador Bob
King's congratulatory message was read by an NED official.
The conference featured debates between NGO leaders,
academics, and senior ROKG officials on issues ranging from
the severity of the DPRK's economic crisis to improving the
North's human rights record. The majority of the academics
and NGO leaders at the conference called for greater
engagement with, and economic assistance to, the DPRK. End
Summary.

High-Profile DPRK Human Rights Conference...
--------------------------------------------

2. (U) The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the
Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University held
a major North Korea human rights conference February 4-5 in
Seoul. The event was well-attended, drawing more than 200
participants from South Korean and foreign government
ministries, embassies, donor agencies, foundations, and NGOs.
In remarks at the beginning of the conference, Ambassador
Stephens highlighted the USG commitment's to democracy,
development, and human rights in the DPRK and the importance
of USG partnerships with North Korea-focused NGOs. She
reviewed the USG's current initiatives, including the
International Visitors' Program (IVLP), DRL funding for human
rights NGOs and radio broadcasts into the DPRK, and the
recent selection of Dr. Lee Ae-ran for an International Woman
of Courage award. Special Envoy for North Korean Human
Rights Issues Bob King's congratulatory remarks were read by
an NED official. Other VIP participants included National
Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o, MOFAT Vice-Minister and former
lead negotiator for the Six-Party Talks Chun Yung-woo, and
ROK Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights Jhe Seong-ho.

...Covers Denuclearization and Six-Party Talks...
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) At a session that was closed to the press, Vice
Minister Chun spoke candidly about the big-picture reality of
inter-Korean relations. He said the ROKG would continue to
pursue a "Denuclearization First" policy towards the DPRK.
Chun argued that the North's current charm offensive stemmed
from an "existential crisis" that had allegedly made the
regime "desperate to embrace anyone who can alleviate the
pain" and financial squeeze of UN sanctions. The DPRK, he
asserted, was "on life support" and the international
community, especially the Five Parties, held "the oxygen
mask."

...DPRK's Internal Situation...
-------------------------------

4. (U) Ministry of Unification Director-General for
Intelligence and Analysis Yang Chang-seok told the
participants that the DPRK's economy was continuing to
deteriorate. He confirmed that North Korea's currency
replacement was an effort to crack down on free market
activity, curb inflation, legitimize the planned economy, and
reduce differences between official and black market exchange
rates; the effort, he indicated, had clearly failed (reftel).
Korea Institute for International Economic Policy Director
Cho Myung-chul stressed that dealing with severe food
shortages would be the most pressing issue for the DPRK in
the next few months because the informal markets that once
compensated for the failed public distribution system (PDS)
were only now beginning to recover from the negative effects
of the currency replacement fiasco.

...How to Foster Democracy in the North...
------------------------------------------

5. (U) Park Hyeong-jung, a Senior Research Fellow at the
Korea Institute for Unification Studies (KINU), argued that
promoting industrialization and modernization in the DPRK
would be likely to generate democratic and human rights
reform in North Korea over the long-term. Referencing the
ROK's economic success under authoritarian rule, Kyungnam
University Professor Phillip Park and the Venerable Pommyun
Sunim, Chairman of The Peace Foundation, added that
modernization must be achieved before any significant
improvement in North Korea's human rights situation can be
expected.

...A Call for Greater Engagement with the North...
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (U) NED President Carl Gershman called for greater
engagement with North Korea by NGOs, urging them to pursue a
"rights-based approach" to DPRK development programs that
nurtured the idea among ordinary North Koreans that local
government officials should be responsive and accountable to
their respective communities. He argued that NGOs should
focus on sectors like health, agriculture, finance, and
teaching foreign languages because the Pyongyang regime
currently welcomed such initiatives and because such programs
helped erode the isolation that was an integral part of the
DPRK political system. National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o
echoed Gershman's comments, calling for the creation of a
pan-ROKG task force to expand private sector exchanges with
the North.

...and Making Use of Refugees and Technology
--------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The majority of the conference participants
acknowledged that the informal engagement occurring between
North Korean refugees and their family members in the North
via mobile phones/computers has been one of the most
effective and under-recognized avenues for opening up DPRK
society and directly engaging ordinary DPRK citizens.
Gershman called for increased ROKG support for the education
and economic empowerment of North Korean refugees,
characterizing them as a "natural bridge for new
partnerships" with the DPRK.
STEPHENS

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