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South Korea said Thursday it would set up a fund this year to prepare for eventual reunification with North Korea, as the death of the North's longtime leader Kim Jong-Il refocused attention on the issue.
The unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said one of its policy priorities this year was practical preparations for reunification including the fund.
In a policy document it also vowed actively to engage in "reunification diplomacy" by garnering international support for Seoul's policies and seeking to share the experiences of Germany.
The ministry gave no details of who would pay into the fund, which has been previously mentioned, or its size.
The issue of how to finance the potentially huge cost of reunification came to the fore in 2010 when the South's President Lee Myung-Bak proposed a special tax.
Estimates vary widely on the cost of reuniting the prosperous South and the impoverished North, which have grown apart for the past six decades.
Per capita income in the communist North is about five percent of that in the capitalist South.
A study sponsored by the ministry has estimated that basic welfare spending on North Koreans would cost 55 trillion won (ê48 billion) for the first year after reunification.
The first-year figure could rise to 249 trillion won (ê217 billion) -- almost one quarter of the South's 2010 national economic output -- if medical costs, pensions and other benefits were factored in.
Kim Jong-Il's death on December 17 and the power transfer to his young and untested son Jong-Un has revived debate on eventual reunification.
Surveys before Kim's death showed waning enthusiasm among South Koreans, especially the young.
Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik on Wednesday described the reluctance for reunification among young people as "very worrisome", stressing that the long-term benefits would outweigh costs.
"Reunification is not a matter of choice but something we must do... it will be a cowardly historical act if we avoid reunification because of money," Yu said in a speech to college students.
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