South Korean leader wins Nobel Peace Prize

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The Independent Online

Kim Dae Jung, a former dissident and political prisoner who survived abduction and death sentences to become South Korean President, won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for his work in bringing about the remarkable reconciliation with the Stalinist government of North Korea.

Kim Dae Jung, a former dissident and political prisoner who survived abduction and death sentences to become South Korean President, won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for his work in bringing about the remarkable reconciliation with the Stalinist government of North Korea.

"Kim Dae Jung has attempted to overcome more than 50 years of war and hostility between North and South Korea," said the citation, read out on behalf of the Nobel committee in Oslo. "His visit to North Korea gave impetus to a process which has reduced tension between the two countries. There may now be hope that the Cold War will also come to an end in Korea."

There was jubilation in the capital, Seoul, where crowds gathered in front of big screens to watch the announcement live on national television. The Unification Minister, Park Jae Kyu, said: "We regard the prize as representing the support of the whole world for a policy the President has consistently promoted to seek reconciliation and co-operation with North Korea."

President Kim's career has consisted of a series of heroic challenges to the status quo, but none has had more impact than his meeting in June with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il. For years, the two governments had existed in a state of war-like tension. Almost 2 million armed men faced one another across the demilitarised zone. Since the end of the Cold War in Europe, and with the collapse of North Korea's Stalinist economy, it was obvious which of the Koreas had come out on top.

But successive South Korean leaders found themselves unable to resist the temptation to engage in bitter exchanges. After his election in 1997, President Kim adopted the so-called sunshine policy, which sought to achieve peace through compromise, to the alarm of South Korean conservatives. The sight of the 74-year-old President Kim journeying to the northern capital, Pyongyang, in June was remarkable enough in itself. When the two former enemies were seen warmly embracing, all expectations were surpassed.

In August, reunions took place between families from the North and South divided by the 1950-53 Korean War. Officials from both sides have shuttled back and forth to discuss plans to reduce military tensions, relax investment restrictions and reopen a railway link across the border. At the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympics, athletes from the North and South marched for the first time under a single flag.

Despite much excited talk in Seoul, full reunification between the two countries is still years away. But even if he fails to see it in his lifetime, Kim Dae Jung will be remembered as his country's greatest statesman, a man who laid to rest the policy of confrontation.

He became an MP in 1961, the era of Park Chung Hee, the most authoritarian of a series of generals who ruled South Korea. Over the next 25 years, his opposition to the military dictatorship brought him two death sentences, seven years of prison, four years of exile, 55 periods of house arrest and two attempts on his life.

The first of these, when his car was run down by a truck, left him with a limp. In the second, in 1973, he was abducted from a hotel in Tokyo by South Korean agents and awoke on a ship, bound to a weighted board that the kidnappers were about to push into the sea. At that point an aircraft - apparently belonging to the CIA - flew low overhead, and his life was mysteriously spared.

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