Cold War movie

S Korean rail-blast aid also helps mend ties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 May, 2004, 12:00am

At the height of the cold war, South Korea's long-serving dictator Park Chung-Hee likened North Korea to a 'mad dog that deserves hitting with a stick'.

South Korean attitudes towards their brethren have come a long way since then. There has been an outpouring of public sympathy since the train explosion 10 days ago in the North Korean town of Ryongchon that killed at least 161 people and left thousands homeless.

Celebrities, politicians and ordinary citizens in the South have rushed to join campaigns to raise money for the victims of the explosion, spurred by graphic pictures of young children lying in ill-equipped hospitals and suffering severe burns and facial injuries.

Seoul plans to send 20 trucks loaded with goods - including blackboards, desks and other school supplies - on top the 80 tonnes of goods, including medicine and blankets, that was sent by air to Pyongyang on Friday. An earlier aid shipment arrived on Thursday at the northern port of Nampo.

'When my students and I saw the injured schoolchildren, it felt as though it was our own children who had been hurt,' said a teacher. A charity drive in Myongdong, the entertainment district of Seoul, attracted businessmen, passing shoppers and children.

Warming relations between the two Koreas in recent years have gradually transformed North Koreans from designated 'enemies' to 'brethren'. However, not all agree with the new definition. Jong-myo Park, in downtown Seoul, is a traditional meeting place for hundreds of the city's male senior citizens. They gather during the day to play Korean chequers and engage in fierce conversations about the country's politics.

Among this older community, many of whom had first-hand experience of the Korean war, the attitude is far more hostile.

'Those North Koreans should take responsibility for the state of their own country' said one elderly man, shaking his fist in the air, during a heated discussion on the evils of communism.

The term 'main enemy' was used by Seoul to describe its neighbour since the end of Korean war in 1953. The description was dropped in March, the fruit of a decision by President Roh Moo-Hyun to continue his predecessor's policy of engaging the North despite an international crisis over its nuclear weapons programme.

The 'sunshine policy' of engagement has changed the terms of the debate on North Korea and affected even the most vehement anti-Pyongyang voices

Conservative daily the Chosun Ilbo, well known for its criticism of the North Korean government, kicked off its own disaster fund with a contribution of 100 million won (HK$670,000).

The South Korean government has pledged more than US$25 million in aid to rebuild shattered Ryongchon. It is also hoping to build on the sense of public solidarity in South Korea towards the North.