Korea centre tries to bridge 60 years of divide

Wed Jul 8, 2009 2:23am EDT
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By Jon Herskovitz and Christine Kim

ANSEONG, South Korea (Reuters) - At a red brick building set in rolling hills in South Korea, recent arrivals from North Korea seek to bridge the technology divide, learning skills such as using an ATM or operating a laundromat.

The Hanawon center, which marks the 10th anniversary of its founding on Wednesday, serves as the temporary base for defectors from North Korea, many of them scarred from their escape.

They spend three months here hoping to somehow bridge the 60 years of division that turned their former home into an economic backwater and their new home in the South a global powerhouse.

"Hanawon is the place where the pain of separation and the hope of unification co-exist," Lee Hong-gu, a presidential adviser on unification said.

For most of the about 16,000 defectors who have passed through, Hanawon marks a respite between harrowing journeys out of North Korea and starting a new life in the South where they must fend for themselves in the competitive, capitalist state.

Many bear mental scars from their escapes, have few skills needed for the South's competitive job market and little idea about gadgets such as ATMs and mobile phones.

Hanawon, meaning "house of unity," teaches the new arrivals skills such as using washing machines and paying bills over the Internet. The South's spy agency keeps an eye out for potential North Korean agents while trying to shatter the image built by the North's propaganda that leader Kim Jong-il is deity.

Hanawon is equipped with training facilities for vocational skills, computer labs, dormitories and medical facilities where many receive work on their teeth due to the poor state of dental care in the North.   Continued...