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Seoul to foster N.K. defectors as unification force

Four-month program to train 1,000 young people from N. Korea


South Korea will open a program aimed at training young North Korean defectors to be resourceful workers after the reunification of the two Koreas, a civic group here said Tuesday.

The four-month program, funded by the government, will train 1,000 young North Koreans, who are either college seniors or graduates, on topics such as social integration and capitalism, to help defuse confusion after reunification, the group said.

At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into the Soviet-backed North and pro-U.S. South, a separation cemented after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce rather than a permanent peace treaty.

Despite harsh punishment for defection, a growing number of North Koreans ― especially those in their 20s and 30s ― have been fleeing to the wealthier South, indicating the deepening food shortages and instability in the communist state.

More than 20,000 North Koreans are said to have defected since the Korean War.

Although it would not openly admit it, the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in Seoul has been increasing measures preparing for sudden collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime in Pyongyang.

North Korea, which relies mostly on outside assistance to feed its impoverished population of 24 million, has been facing deepening international isolation and is also going through an unstable power transfer from its ailing leader to his youngest son.

Some 25 defectors will attend class next week as the first batch of students waiting to be trained. In the last week of their training these students will be visiting former divided countries such as Germany and the Vietnam to inspect for themselves the positive changes after reunification. Class for the second batch will begin in September.

Some 33 North Korean experts and scholars including former White House official Victor Cha will be working as teachers.

The International Federation of North Koreans said it “feels the need to foster these young defectors as experts and intellects to prepare for sudden changes in North Korea,” in its press release, adding it “hopes to see the young North Korean defectors play a role in integrating a reunified Korea.”

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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