Key unification ministry and health portfolio go to fierce Uri Party rivals with presidential ambitions Two rising stars from South Korea's ruling Uri Party have entered the government, in a further sign of the leftward shift in the country's politics. Chung Dong-young was named unification minister yesterday, with responsibility for relations with communist North Korea, while Kim Geun-tae has been given the top post at the department of health and welfare. Political analysts will be carefully watching their ministerial performance as both men have been tipped as future presidential candidates. Mr Chung replaces Jeong Se-hyun at the influential and high-profile ministry. Despite being members of the same party, their ambitions make the politicians fierce political rivals. By bringing them into the government, President Roh Moo-hyun is trying to prevent them from splitting the party by keeping their rivalries within the confines of the cabinet. For the moment, Mr Chung appears to have won the upper hand in his competition with Mr Kim. The two politicians were engaged in a well-publicised tussle for control of post of unification minister, which would serve as a useful springboard for a future presidential bid. An incursion by a North Korean fishing vessel yesterday, and an ongoing deadlock over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme, indicate many thorny issues lie ahead for the first-time minister. As a former broadcast journalist, Mr Chung reported on the Unification Ministry and recently laid the foundations for the new role with a visit to Washington, where he met James Kelly, the US assistant secretary of state who represents the US in multilateral talks to dismantle the North's nuclear programme. Opponents of the appointment have criticised Mr Chung's lack of diplomatic experience. But he has been personally touched by inter-Korean events. Mr Chung grew up believing he was the eldest son, but was told by his father, soon before his death, that three brothers were killed by North Korean guerillas, according to close aide Kim Key-man. As former chairman of the Uri Party, Mr Chung led his party to victory in April's general election, despite a serious blunder during the election campaign when he advised elder voters not to bother to cast their ballots. The new health minister, Kim Geun-tae, boasts impeccable reformist credentials. A long-time pro-democracy fighter, he was once placed on death row for his political activities. Mr Kim's career has also been affected by inter-Korean events. His three brothers allegedly defected to the North during the Korean war which ended in 1953. Publicity surrounding this hindered his bid for the country's highest inter-Korean position. More recently he has been a thorn in the side of the president and challenged Mr Roh to a no-holds-barred discussion over policy differences. The president will be hoping to neuter his troublesome political ally by bringing him into the closest policy-making circle. The partial cabinet reshuffle follows the appointment of Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan who officially makes ministerial recommendations to the president. The 52-year old prime minister is a five-term lawmaker who previously served as vice-mayor of Seoul and chief policymaker of the former ruling Millennium Democratic Party. He was also education minister under the administration of Kim Dae-Jung, Mr Roh's predecessor. There had been calls for a more wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle with demands that Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon be replaced. His department has faced severe criticism for its handling of the abduction and killing last week of a South Korean in Iraq by Islamic extremists. But Mr Roh has insisted further cabinet appointments will have to wait until after an inquiry into the death is completed in a few weeks. Another Uri Party lawmaker, Chung Dong-chae, was appointed culture and tourism minister. Tension-reducing measures signed early last month between the two Koreas appear to have failed completely during a maritime intrusion by a North Korean fishing vessel. The incident suggests the new unification minister has an uphill struggle to prove warmer inter-Korean relations are bearing fruit. Outlining the challenges facing Mr Chung Dong-young, Seoul's Joint Chief of Staff yesterday announced that a North Korean fishing vessel had briefly violated the disputed western maritime border separating the two countries. The boat drifted across the maritime line in foggy weather and low visibility. The incident happened despite a package of measures, including the use of radio contact, agreed by the militaries of the two Koreas early last month in a bid to prevent accidental armed clashes along the sea border.