South wants immunity for its officials for Kaesong

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South wants immunity for its officials for Kaesong

South Korea has asked North Korea to grant immunity to South Korean officials stationed at a soon-to-be liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong, sources said Tuesday.

The two Koreas agreed to open the office “at an early date” during high-level talks last week. The meeting discussed steps for implementing promises made by the two countries’ leaders during their summits in April and May.

The South Korean government plans to station officials there to keep communication channels open around the clock as part of efforts to support cross-border exchanges, which are likely to increase.

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, the South Korean government recently proposed that North Korea grant immunity from arrest and detention for its officials to be stationed in the office, just as the Vienna Convention grants such privilege to diplomats.

It also proposed that the North guarantee safety of passage and communications for its officials, while exempting them from checks on bags and pouches, the sources said.

Kaesong is the western border city where the two Koreas had operated a joint industrial complex since 2004. It was hailed as a successful example of economic cooperation between the two countries, combining capital from South Korea with cheap and skilled labor from the North.

South Korea, however, closed the project in early 2016 and recalled its officials and workers in protest of the North’s continued missile launches and nuclear tests.

Although there was an agreement regarding the safety of South Korean personnel at the time, there was no clear legal ground for the South Korean government to ask for the return of its people in case of their arrest or detention, experts said.

It is not clear how the North has reacted to the recent proposals. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles relations with the North, said it has made proposals to the North on operational details of the liaison office but declined to confirm whether the demand for immunity was made.

“It is true that operation-related proposals were made, but we have not yet started consultations with the North on the matters,” a ministry official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.

“It will not take much time to see the opening of the office, so things will be clarified soon.”

Earlier media reports said that South Korea would send an advance team to Kaesong before June 15 to make preparations for the office’s launch. The ministry official said the composition and scale of the advance team and other details have not been finalized yet.

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