Pro-unification group meets with North delegation

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Pro-unification group meets with North delegation

Despite a ban from the Ministry of Unification, three members of a Seoul-based civic group departed for China yesterday to meet with their North Korean counterparts.

The All-Korean Committee for Implementation of the June 15 Joint Declaration, a civic organization aimed at boosting inter-Korean interaction among civilians, has branches in both Seoul and Pyongyang. Its North branch is chaired by Kim Ryong-song, the delegate for a string of previous ministerial-level inter-Korean talks.

The committee said their three Seoul members left to meet with their Pyongyang members in Shenyang, a city in northeastern China, and will return to the South today.

Kim Chun-sig, the vice minister of unification, visited the committee on Monday and told them that the government prohibits their visit. However, the committee said they will push forward with the trip.

“We fully understand the concerns of the government about this working-level contact,” Jeong In-seong, spokesman of the committee in Seoul, said. “We will do our best to become a good opportunity for restoring civil-level interactions with the North.”

According to the committee, members of the Seoul branch asked for a working-level talk with their colleagues in the North on Jan. 26, and on the next day the North members proposed a meeting in Shenyang, along with other members living abroad.

Paik Nak-chung, chairman of the committee, said in his recent speech on Wednesday at a press meeting that the government should allow more cross-border meetings among civilians.

Currently, the South Korean government allows civil-level meetings with the North only for nonpolitical purposes, such as humanitarian aid.

However, the ministry said that the committee is a political civic group and they aren’t allowed to contact North Koreans, because the two countries have had no working-level talks since the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March 2010.

“It’s not true that the government is blocking all civil-level inter-Korean relations,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

“If they indeed meet with North Korean delegates of the committee, they will violate the inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Law, fining them one million won ($896) per person.”

According to the ministry, there have been two cases in which civic groups violated the law and contacted the North, in 2010 and 2011. They were all levied the fine.

After hearing of South Korea’s position in prohibiting a civic group’s contact with North for political purposes, the North’s official propaganda site Uriminzokkiri lambasted the measure yesterday.

“Blocking a cross-border meeting between civilians is a frantic last-ditch effort to postpone the advance of our people by the June 15 Declaration because of infeasible talks between the governments,” a post on the site read.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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