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Park in dilemma over Aug. 15 speech

President Park Geun-hye is facing a dilemma over her address planned for the Aug. 15 Liberation Day holiday as she struggles to set the tone of her message toward North Korea after an unprecedented land mine attack in the demilitarized zone, which has further strained inter-Korean ties.

The president is to deliver her annual speech to mark the nation’s liberation from Japanese rule Saturday, urging the people to join her efforts to overhaul four major sectors and bring cultural prosperity. 

She is also widely expected to urge North Korea to join hands to open an era of reconciliation and cooperation. But the blast that inflicted serious injuries to two South Korean sergeants and North Korea’s breach of borders has placed Park under pressure to revise her entire message to Pyongyang in line with Seoul taking a strong stance toward the reclusive regime.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo has so far vowed to seize the upper hand in the DMZ and take other punitive steps against North Korea in response to it crossing the border and planting the three land mines. The defense chief has also warned of further actions in retaliation besides the propaganda war launched against the North.

Amid deepening concerns over inter-Korean ties, Park vowed Wednesday to sternly deal with North Korea‘s provocation. She said, however, that she will keep the door open for joint efforts toward unification.

President Park Geun-hye, Korea Liberation Association chairman Park Yu-chul (right) and other participants pledge allegiance to the national flag during a luncheon event to appreciate some of the country’s former independence fighters and their bereaved families at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye, Korea Liberation Association chairman Park Yu-chul (right) and other participants pledge allegiance to the national flag during a luncheon event to appreciate some of the country’s former independence fighters and their bereaved families at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday. (Yonhap)


“We will sternly deal with North Korea’s provocation. At the same time, we will also make all possible efforts to bring peace and prevent such (provocative incidents) from happening,” she said at a luncheon held to thank independence fighters and their surviving family members.

The nation should carry out a historic mission to achieve the peaceful unification of the two Koreas that many patriotic martyrs had dreamed of, Park said.

“We could only complete our patriots’ mission of liberating Korea through having the two Koreas work together for peaceful unification and the people’s coprosperity, and to become (a single) advanced, strong nation in the world,” she said. 

The tone of her speech with regard to Japan also remains undecided as the Seoul government waits for the release of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement slated for Friday to commemorate the end of World War II. Abe has been facing pressure from in and outside Japan to make clear apologies for past atrocities in his speech.

On Wednesday, Park invited independence fighters and the surviving family members of the deceased to Cheong Wa Dae as part of a series of events held to commemorate Liberation Day.

She has been hosting the event with independence patriots every year since she entered office in early 2013, paying her respects to people who risked their lives for the nation’s independence from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule, her office said.

The president praised them for their sacrifices, calling it a foundation of South Korea today, and also asked for their support for her reform drive and policies for economic revitalization.

The government plans to present medals and presidential commendations Saturday to 257 independence fighters, including 10 foreigners who supported Koreans struggling to end Japan’s colonial rule.

The government has also invited descendants of independence fighters living in foreign countries to join the festivities to honor them. The Ministry of Justice has granted Korean citizenship to 11 descendants of independence fighters so that they may keep and acknowledge their Korean roots.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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