May 16, 2006

Japan’s pro-Seoul, pro-Pyongyang groups seek thaw

TOKYO (Reuters) - In a move that parallels signs of
improving ties between South Korea and North Korea, groups
representing pro-Seoul and pro-Pyongyang residents in Japan
said on Wednesday they wanted to patch up a decades-old feud.

The two groups have their roots in an organization created
by Koreans living in Japan after the end of Tokyo's 1910-1945
colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

But the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan),
founded in 1946, and the General Association of Korean
Residents in Japan (Chongryon), established in 1955, have had a
history of antagonism stemming from deep ideological

Mindan's leader, Ha Byeong-ok, and Chongryon's head, So
Man-sul, said they had agreed to work together to better the
lives of Koreans in Japan.

"Mindan and (Chongryon)...agreed to switch their
relationship, which for a long time had been based on animosity
and conflict, to one of mutual understanding and harmony," they
said in a statement issued after the first-ever meeting between
leaders of the two groups.

Momentum toward reconciliation between the two groups
picked up after a 2000 summit between then South Korean
President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,
Japanese media reports said.

Observers believe the two groups share a sense of crisis
over the steady decline in the numbers of ethnic Koreans in
Japan, who are estimated to total about 600,000 but are
shrinking by around 10,000 a year primarily through marriages
to Japanese citizens, Kyodo news agency said.