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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 October 2007, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Mixed feelings over Koreas summit
By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul

The leaders of South and North Korea are holding a landmark summit this week - only the second in the history of the two states.

Banner showing picture of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (left) and North Korea leader Kim Jong-il in Seoul - 01/10/07
This is only the second such summit

Close to the heavily fortified border that divides the Korean peninsular, a small group of South Koreans are taking it in turns to bow deeply towards the barbed wire.

A few hundred, many of them now very elderly, gather here every year to offer prayers to loved ones from whom they have been separated for more than half a century.

Jon Byong-yoon, 84, has never met his son. The Korean war separated him from his pregnant wife and eventually from his home in the north. His son would now be 56 years old.

He is hopeful that this week's summit will bring the two countries closer together.

"I think they should be meeting as often as possible," he tells me.

"There was engagement between East and West Germany before the Berlin wall fell. Maybe that can happen here."

The first summit, in June 2000, was also held in the North's capital, Pyongyang. Then, cheering crowds provided the backdrop for the bear-hug greeting between the two statesmen.

Thousands of North Koreans are in concentration camps, many more are hungry, and this summit will have no meaning if these issues aren't addressed
Han Chang-kwon
North Korean defector in Seoul

That meeting did lead to a few practical signs of progress.

Some of the divided families have been allowed to meet, and a joint industrial zone has been built on the border.

But seven years on, many observers, like Professor Brian Myers from South Korea's Dongseo University, believe little has really been achieved.

"They still have no rail ties, there are no mail or telephone contacts, so the two Koreas are still further apart than the two Germanys were even before Ostpolitik started in the 1960s," he said.

"The South Korean public believes that the co-operation has so far been too much of a one-way street. They want something back, even a symbolic gesture, and this summit fulfils that need."

But the South's government is insisting that issues of substance will be discussed, that this summit may pave the way for nothing less than a formal end to the Korean war, laying the groundwork for a deal to swap the 1953 ceasefire for a real peace treaty.

Election boost?

Kim Jong-il, of course, was there for the first summit. So how likely is it that he is really prepared to offer something new this time?

There is a view that the North Korean leader may have an interest in helping his southern counterpart.

A picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is defaced at a rally in Seoul - 01/09/07
Feelings run high among South Koreans over the north

With an election looming in the South, a successful summit would give President Roh Moo-hyun's party a boost, at the expense of the conservative opposition whom the North Korean regime is likely to view as potentially a lot less friendly.

Whatever the outcome President Roh seems determined to portray the meeting as a historic event.

His convoy drove north from Seoul for the summit, stopping to allow the television cameras to capture the symbolism as he walked across the border.

The North has another incentive to co-operate. The impoverished communist state now has an economy estimated to be less than 3% of the size of the affluent South.

The summit may well reach agreement on giving more aid to Pyongyang and a further, though limited, strengthening of the economic ties between the two countries.

Propaganda potential

And what about the North Korean public's view of the summit?

Professor Brian Myers is an expert in the regime's use of propaganda.

"The North Koreans will present Roh Moo-hyun's visit as tribute", he says.

"The last summit was presented as a meeting between Kim Jong-il and the South Korean masses, in other words, the South Korean president was taken out off the equation."

Some Koreans believe the meeting should not be taking place at all.

Han Chang-kwon is a North Korean defector now living in Seoul.

I spoke to him while he was taking part in a demonstration highlighting the human rights abuses suffered by his countrymen back home.

"Raise the issue, raise the issue," the protesters were chanting.

"Thousands of North Koreans are in concentration camps, many more are hungry, and this summit will have no meaning if these issues aren't addressed," he said.

But the South Korean government believes engagement, not criticism, is more likely to win concessions from its reclusive northern neighbour.

President Roh Moo-hyun has promised to push for the divided families to be given more opportunities to meet.

The policy of engagement is one supported by Jon Byong-yoon, desperate to meet his son.

"If I was only in my 70s I might have a chance, but I'm 84. I'm running out of time," he said.

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