중앙데일리

Unions penalized over acts in North

Aug 04,2006
The Ministry of Unification said it had punished a group of South Korean labor organization members for placing floral tributes at the national cemetery of North Korea during a visit to Pyongyang. The ministry said the labor groups received only a partial reimbursement of their travel expenses as a punitive action, but criticism arose yesterday that the penalty was too light.
A group of 150 South Koreans received permission to visit Pyongyang for four days from April 30 to attend inter-Korean Labor Day events. Before their departure, the government instructed the travelers on what not to do in the North and asked them not to commit any political act other than the stated purpose of their visit, the ministry said.
Despite that instruction, 50 of 150 travelers visited the Revolutionary Patriots’ Tombs, the national cemetery of North Korea, during their visit, the ministry said. Among those 50, four laid flowers before the gravesand the National Intelligence Service is investigating if they violated the National Security Law by doing so.
The ministry said it has asked the nation’s two umbrella unions, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, to submit explanations about what had happened in the North, but received no answer. The ministry said it banned the four flower layers and 10 labor union leaders who failed to stop them from doing so from visiting the North for one month, from July 5 to Aug. 4.
The labor unions received more than 69 million won ($71,517) of inter-Korean cooperation funds as reimbursement of their airfare, lodging and dining expenses for the trip, the ministry said. Critics, however, said the government spent tax money for flowers to be laid before the graves of North Korean war criminals.
“We initially planned to provide 104 million won, but cut that amount by one third,” a Unification Ministry official said yesterday, explaining that the money was reduced in proportion to the number of people who had visited the North’s national cemetery.
The ministry’s decision to bar the 14 labor activists from visiting the North for one month was also under fire. “South Koreans visit the North only a few times a year, so a one-month ban is hardly an effective punishment,” a source well-connected with inter-Korean exchange projects said.
“I was one of the leaders who guided delegates to the North,” Song Myeong-jin, a senior member of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday. “But the Unification Ministry did not impose a ban on me.” Mr. Song said the labor union is also reviewing a legal measure to counter the government’s decision to pay only partial reimbursement, claiming the decision was unrealistic and poorly grounded.
The North has insisted that the South abolish the National Security Law. At last month’s inter-Korean ministerial meeting, the North also demanded that the South not restrict its citizens from visiting landmarks in North Korea.
As of late June, more than 1.8 trillion won of tax money has been raised for the inter-Korean cooperation fund. The government spent nearly 1.8 billion won in 2003 to support social and cultural exchanges; that amount rose to 4.2 billion in 2004 and 11.3 billion last year. As of the first half of this year, Seoul had spent 9.2 billion won of tax money to fund inter-Korean exchanges.
Also yesterday, the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee criticized the National Human Rights Commission’s research project on the rights situation in North Korea, saying it had failed to state its position on the matter or present the outcome of its research. Of 150 million won ($155,473) allocated for the project last year, the commission only spent 53 percent of the money.


by Lee Young-jong, Jeong Yong-su, Ser Myo-ja


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