Pyongyang ditches inter-Korean liaison office

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Pyongyang ditches inter-Korean liaison office

Pyongyang pulled out of an inter-Korean liaison office Friday in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, with an official at the office saying the withdrawal was based on orders from above. South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said in a statement Friday that a North Korean official at the Kaesong liaison office informed his South Korean counterpart about the pull-out at around 9:15 a.m., saying the decision was handed down by his superiors, without giving any names. The liaison office opened last September.

The North Korean official was quoted as saying that the North “would not mind” South Korean officials remaining at the Kaesong office, adding that Pyongyang will inform the South about other “working-level issues” at a “later” date. No timeline was given.

The Unification Ministry said it was “regretful” that Pyongyang has decided to walk out of the new liaison office, stressing that it hopes North Korean officials return as soon as possible so that the office can operate normally. Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that the South will stay at the office as per the office’s “purpose.”

The Blue House said in a statement that South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, presided over a standing committee meeting at the National Security Council on Friday afternoon to discuss North Korea’s withdrawal from the office and its countermeasures. But no further details were given and Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom refused to comment.

The Kaesong liaison office was opened on Sept. 14, less than a week before the third summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took place in Pyongyang. Operating around-the-clock, the liaison office was meant to oversee contact between the two Koreas, host working-level and high-level meetings and consultations between the two countries’ officials and support civilians traveling across the border. The office was based on the Panmunjom Declaration Moon and Kim reached in April 2018 during their first summit, which reads that the South and North will establish a joint liaison office in Kaesong with resident representatives from both sides in order to “facilitate close consultation” across the border.

Kaesong was home to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last vestige of inter-Korean economic cooperation before the South pulled out in February 2016 during the conservative former Park Geun-hye administration, following North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests earlier that year.

Vice Unification Minister Chun said Friday afternoon during a press briefing that not a single person from the North Korean side was left at the Kaesong liaison office. Some 15 North Korean officials who used to be permanently stationed there left with “some papers” but didn’t take any “equipment” from their office with them, Chun said. Chun refused to link North Korea’s withdrawal with the failed second summit between North Korea and the United States. Chun said he didn’t see the issue as rescinding the Panmunjom Declaration, and said Seoul needed more time to analyze it. Other communication channels are operating normally, he added.

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