Delegation from North attends event in Gyeonggi

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Delegation from North attends event in Gyeonggi

A North Korean delegation arrived at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday night to attend a peace forum in Goyang, Gyeonggi, which was the first time since the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February that a high-level official from Pyongyang stepped onto South Korean soil aside from the truce village of Panmunjom.

Seven North Koreans were invited by the Gyeonggi provincial government office and the Asia-Pacific Exchange Association (APEA), a Seoul-based pro-unification civic group, to participate in the forum, which kicks off in Goyang Friday.

The forum, co-hosted by the Gyeonggi government and APEA, will discuss Japan’s conscription of Korean laborers in the early 20th century during colonial rule as well as peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region in the 21st century.

The North Korean group arrived at Incheon airport around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Just hours before their arrival, the North informed Gyeonggi officials that two delegates wouldn’t be arriving due to “circumstances,” according to a Gyeonggi spokesman, who said no further explanation was given.

Among the two dropped from the delegation was Kim Song-hye, a director of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (Kappc), who has a history of planning top North Korean officials’ visits abroad. Local media had speculated she might be coming to the South to lay the groundwork for a visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kim agreed to visit the South Korean capital when he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late September for their third summit, but a specific date has yet to be fixed.

The Gyeonggi spokesman said he was told by the North that the remaining five would arrive at Incheon airport as initially planned.

The North Korean delegation was scheduled to stay at The MVL Hotel Goyang, where the forum will be held, throughout the week and return home Saturday morning.

Police officers have been dispatched around the hotel to stave off potential conservative protesters rallying against the North Koreans’ visit.

The Gyeonggi government has so far kept tight-lipped about the invitees’ schedule, saying Wednesday that related discussions with the North were still ongoing.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North and gave the final approval for the North Koreans’ visit to Goyang, said the delegation included Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the Kappc. 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.

The Gyeonggi spokesman said the North Korean visitors will probably look around key facilities in the province today, including the Gyeonggi-do Agricultural Research & Extension Services in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, a research institute that studies and develops new farming technologies. The group may have lunch and dinner with Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Rep. Lee Hae-chan, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party, according to the spokesman.

Keynote speakers at the Goyang forum on Friday are expected to be former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who’s known for his pro-Korean views, and former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun.

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