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Press Review: Drums In Korea; Soft Words In Macedonia

  • Don Hill

Prague, April 9 (RFE/RL) - Drum beating in North Korea preoccupies U.S. press international commentary, while some comment in the European press examines the new Macedonia-Serbia rapprochement.

Kevin Sullivan wrote yesterday in a Washington Post news analysis: "Hundreds of North Korean troops staged provocative exercises in the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea for a third consecutive night Sunday, raising tensions on this skittish peninsula to rare heights three days before a key South Korean election.... Tensions in the area have risen dramatically in recent months as North Korea wobbles toward what many observers say is an inevitable collapse of its communist system. Its economy is a shambles, and many of its 24 million people are suffering from severe food shortages."

In a Los Angeles Times analysis Sunday, David Holley said: "Just five days before crucial South Korean elections, Pyongyang's efforts to undermine the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War have suddenly made national security a major campaign issue. Responding to harsh North Korean rhetoric attacking the armistice, plus violation of the agreement by North Korean forces in the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korean President Kim Young Sam convened a special national security meeting Saturday and called for a 'heightened, iron-tight defense.' ...The Communist government in Pyongyang has been trying since 1994 to force Washington into direct U.S.-North Korea peace talks by undercutting the armistice agreement, which provides rules for the truce that ended the Korean War. Pyongyang's intent has been to establish a direct relationship with Washington, bypassing Seoul."

Andrew Pollack reports in today's New York Times: "There was relative calm (last) night along the so-called joint security area at the border village of Panmunjon, and South Koreans, feeling little threat, mainly went about their normal routines during the day.... Right now, some elements of the government of South Korea might be happy to let the situation remain as it is, at least until Thursday, when there will be nationwide elections for the National Assembly. That is because South Korea's governing party, headed by President Kim, is expected to benefit by appealing to a public desire for stability at a time of crisis."

In The Washington Post today, Mary Jordan writes: "Many of North Korea's 24 million people do not have enough food or heat or electricity to light their homes. As many as 200,000 are believed to be doing hard labor under torturous conditions in political prison camps. Among the offenses in the communist state that are punishable by execution are criticizing its 'Great Leader' and listening to foreign broadcasts.... As North Korea grows poorer and South Korea richer, the discussion has moved beyond whether the regime in Pyongyang is sustainable. The speculation now is about how it will end.... Will 'Great Leader' Kim Jong Il, a reported aficionado of cognac, fast cars and movies, cut his losses and hop a military jet to Switzerland? Will there be a coup as hungry and resentful military subordinates punish Kim and the system that has brought their country to such straits? Will border guards start defecting and allow hungry farmers a safe route to flee south? Or, as Americans and South Koreans fear most, will the North try to shoot its way out?"

Michael A. Lev said yesterday in the Chicago Tribune: "Scenes of villagers being trucked to remote fields to forage for edible roots are among the most recent signs that malnutrition and famine threaten North Korea, according to international relief workers. But an aid request by North Korea's hostile and secretive government last week was overshadowed over the weekend by its military posturing against South Korea, raising the question of whether the North's appeal for food would fail.... Over the last week, North Korea has intensified its anti-South Korean rhetoric and appeared to challenge the uneasy truce that has held between the two countries since an armistice ended the Korean War in 1953."

In an analysis in The Washington Post today, Kevin Sullivan writes: "No one knows the danger of North Korea's recent military provocations better than the 500 U.N. soldiers stationed (at South Korea's) northernmost military base. The 230 American and 270 South Korean soldiers live just 440 yards south of the Demilitarized Zone in a cluster of low buildings surrounded by double and triple coils of razor wire, fields of land mines and machine-gun bunkers reinforced with sandbags."

The U.S. newspaper Newsday carries today a news analysis by Patrick J. Sloyan . Sloyan says: "Worsening food and fuel shortages in North Korea could cause the collapse of one of the world's last communist regimes, U.S. officials said Monday.... The temporary dispatch of North Korean combat troops inside the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas three times this past weekend has revived concerns that Pyongyang could launch an invasion as a last gasp of political control.... South Korea, with elections scheduled later this week, has taken a hard line toward Pyongyang.... In response to Seoul's hard line, North Korea has moved combat aircraft closer to the DMZ, joining 1 million North Korean troops based there and primed to attack South Korea on short notice. Instead of war, U.S. officials say a more likely scenario is an internal collapse of political control in North Korea with thousands fleeing the country for food."

In Europe, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung editorializes today on a just-signed Yugoslavia-Macedonia pact: "The deal between Belgrade and Skopje is quite something. Belgrade will recognize Macedonia and the name this former Yugoslav republic has given itself, while Skopje recognises that rump Yugoslavia (Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro) is a kind of heir to Tito's state." The editorial, signed by Bernd Kueppers, concludes: "With this agreement Belgrade is accepting what Athens has so far rejected. In return Skopje entered into a compromise on one of the core issues of the war in ex-Yugoslavia. By granting Macedonia diplomatic recognition rump Yugoslavia is fulfilling a precondition set by the majority of European Union member states for full diplomatic relations with Belgrade."

In Britain's The Independent, Europe editor Tony Barber writes today: "The treaty may enable Yugoslavia... to break out of the international isolation imposed for the Serb role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.... Macedonia has led a precarious existence.... The state is known formally at the U.N. as the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,' a formula which reflects Greece's objection that the term Macedonia implies a territorial claim on the northern Greek provice of the same name."