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Pyongyang mum on request for Kaesong visit

May 21,2019
The South Korean government attempted to contact the North to allow business owners to visit their factories in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but Pyongyang was unresponsive as of Monday.

Last Friday, South Korea’s government’s decided to donate $8 million in humanitarian aid through international agencies to North Korea and allow a group of nearly 200 businessmen to visit the shuttered Kaesong complex.

“We are currently continuing to consult with North Korea on the visit by Kaesong complex businesses to the North and will continue to do so,” said Lee Sang-min, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry, in a briefing Monday in Seoul. “And our government is in the process of consultations with international organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and Unicef on the issue of providing funds and taking measures to enable support at an early date.”

Kaesong business owners are eager to visit their factories, but detailed consultations with the North may not happen right away.

“Because we are in a situation where the Kaesong businessmen have requested to visit the North nine times, we have continued to consult with North Korea on this,” said Lee. “And we will continue consultations in the future about further details in areas such as the exact date of the visit to the North.”

He said that the inter-Korean liaison office is “operating normally.”

The Blue House announced last Friday it plans to provide $8 million to international organizations such as the WFP and Unicef to provide food aid to North Korean children and pregnant or breast-feeding women with food to combat malnutrition.

The proposal came after David Beasley, executive director of the WFP, visited Seoul last week and expressed concern about the dire food shortage in the North, which is facing its worst harvest in a decade according to a comprehensive report by the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released earlier this month.

At the end of last month, a group of 193 businessmen asked the government for approval to travel to the shuttered Kaesong complex to check the condition of the equipment in their factories on the northern side of the inter-Korean border.

The government finally gave them permission after refusing eight previous requests. Such a visit could be seen as sending the wrong message amid the ongoing international sanctions and the so-called maximum pressure being on North Korea by the United States.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex has been shut since February 2016 following North Korean nuclear and missile provocations.

However, Seoul’s attempt to provide humanitarian assistance and allow Kaesong businessmen to visit the North, a gesture to bring about some sort of breakthrough following the collapse of the second North-U.S. summit in Vietnam at the end of February, has been ignored so far.

Instead, North Korea has been openly criticizing cooperation between Seoul and Washington through its state-run propaganda outlet.

The North’s propaganda website Uriminzokkiri on Monday was critical of working group talks between Seoul and Washington that took place recently, calling them harmful to the development of inter-Korean relations.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, paid a visit to Seoul earlier this month for working group talks with his South Korean counterpart aimed at discussing the denuclearization issue and inter-Korean cooperation issues.

Uriminzokkiri accused South Korean officials of holding “secret talks” with the United States and criticized Seoul’s dependence on “foreign forces,” meaning Washington.

Pyongyang tested short-range projectiles during Biegun’s visit on May 4 and several days later on May 9 launched short-range missiles.

North Korean state media over the past four days made no mention of South Korea’s plans to donate $8 million to international agencies. Analysts point out that North Korea may continue to make more demands and apply more pressure amid the impasse in dialogue with the United States.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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