Peace said ‘dearer than anything’: North official

AFP-JIJI

As the two Koreas move forward with plans for their first family reunions in three years, Choe Ryong Hae, North Korea’s top military official, said Pyongyang does not want war and values peace above all else.

Friday’s agreement to hold the reunion event next month has deepened signs of rapprochement after months of tension, with Pyongyang also offering to revive the joint Kaesong industrial park project with Seoul.

“Peace is dearer to us than anything else as our general goal is to build an economic power and improve the standard of people’s living,” Choe, vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army, said at a political meeting in Pyongyang on Saturday.

The comment was relayed by the official Korean Central News Agency, which said the meeting was an annual event to celebrate the “Songun” (army-first) policy set by late leader Kim Jong Il.

“The Korean people do not want war but hope for averting a fratricidal war and reunifying the country . . . peacefully at any cost,” Choe said.

The communist state will make “every possible effort to prevent a new war” on the Korean Peninsula and to boost “friendly and cooperative relations” with the rest of the world, he added.

Choe, the director of the army’s powerful political bureau, is a close aide to leader Kim Jong Un. He visited China in May as Kim’s special envoy in a move apparently aimed at mending ties soured by North Korea’s nuclear test carried out in February.

The North, after issuing threats of nuclear war against Seoul and Washington in the months after the widely condemned test, has recently changed tack with a flurry of conciliatory gestures.

It agreed to a proposal by South Korean President Park Geun-hye to hold the reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and accepted some preconditions set by Seoul for reopening the joint industrial complex at Kaesong.

South Korea’s Red Cross on Saturday announced a list of 500 potential candidates for the reunions to be held between Sept. 25-30 at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort. The list was generated by a computer taking age and family background into account.

The reunion program was suspended after the North’s shelling of a South Korean border island in November 2010, and its resumption marks a symbolic but important step.