Bigwigs from North invited South

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Bigwigs from North invited South

A high-level North Korean delegation might visit Goyang, Gyeonggi next week to attend an international forum hosted by a local civic group and the Gyeonggi provincial government office, which would mark the first time since the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February that a high-level official from Pyongyang steps on South Korean soil aside from in the truce village of Panmunjom.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said Wednesday that a Seoul-based pro-unification civic group, the Asia Pacific Exchange Association (APEA), formally asked the ministry on Tuesday evening to allow the North Koreans to visit Goyang to participate in the forum.

According to the ministry, the APEA has invited seven North Koreans to the forum, scheduled to run from Nov. 14 to 17 in the Gyeonggi city, to discuss peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. Among the invitees are Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC), and Kim Song-hye, a director of the committee. The ministry said the rest have been identified as assistants. The KAPPC is a group affiliated with the United Front Department under the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, which is deeply involved in cross-border projects.

Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry, told a regular press briefing Wednesday that the South Korean government doesn’t yet have plans to meet with the North Korean delegation on the sidelines of the Goyang forum, neither have authorities informed the organizers they wish to speak with them.

The North Korean delegation’s possible visit to Goyang comes as Seoul is in talks with Pyongyang to prepare for a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the South Korean capital by the end of this year. Kim Jong-un agreed to visit Seoul when he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late September during their third summit, but a specific date has yet been fixed.

In a meeting with the floor leaders of South Korea’s five major political parties in the Blue House on Monday, Moon said he was still hopeful that Kim Jong-un will visit Seoul by the end of 2018.

KAPPC’s Kim Song-hye has a history of planning top North Korean officials’ visits abroad. She was part of the working-level team that planned Kim Yo-jong’s visit to South Korea in February when she attended the PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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