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South Korea face questions, criticism about North

Written by: Staff
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SEOUL, July 6 (Reuters) South Korea's parliament called a senior intelligence official and three ministers to testify on Thursday about Seoul's response to the North's missile launches, which has been criticised for being too soft on Pyongyang.

South Korea has been reluctant to tie the massive assistance it gives the North to Pyongyang's behaviour, saying its aid is not tied to international efforts to end the North's nuclear arms ambitions.

The defence minister testified before a closed-door meeting of parliament's defence committee, the unification and foreign ministers addressed a separate committee and a top intelligence official spoke in private with the intelligence committee.

They are likely to face pressure from both sides of the aisle to take substantive actions to punish the North for the launch of seven missiles, including the possible suspension of humanitarian aid to South Korea's impoverished neighbour.

Lawmakers from the ruling Uri Party, main opposition Grand National Party as well as major newspapers criticised the government of President Roh Moo-hyun for not taking a firm stance with the North to prevent the launch.

Relations between the two Koreas have warmed in recent years but Pyongyang relies on the South to supply it with food to help feed its people. It has asked for 500,000 tonnes of rice from the South this year, but Seoul has not responded to the request.

''We must realise that our aid to the North has been carried out not under the spirit of cooperation between the two Koreas, but under a hostage situation as the North wielded its nuclear weapons,'' the opposition Grand National Party's interim leader, Kim Young-sun, said late on Wednesday.

South Korea's biggest newspapers also called on the government to show the North that ties could not be the same after the launch.

''Now our national security is in danger because the government knows neither its counterpart nor itself,'' the Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial on Thursday.

South Korean officials said after the launch that ties had been strained and aid may have to be reconsidered.

''North Korea has crossed a line. It needs to be prepared to pay the price for placing the Korean peninsula in danger,'' the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial as it asked Seoul to reconsider providing food and farm aid to the North.

REUTERS RS0929

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