North Korea withdraws staff from inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong

North Korea withdraws staff from inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong

March 22, 2019– Mary Greeley News – South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House) held an emergency meeting of its National Security Council (NSC) on Friday, hours after North Korea pulled out its officials from a joint liaison office with South Korea in its border town of Kaesong.

North Korea has withdrawn its personnel from the inter-Korean joint liaison office at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), South Korean Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung announced on Friday.

All of the DPRK officials, who had stayed in Kaesong for the round-the-clock communications with the South Korean counterparts, withdrew from the office.

Speaking at a special news briefing, South Korean vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said Pyongyang had this morning notified the South that it would “withdraw [staff] in accordance with the direction of the superior authority.”

North Korea withdraws staff from inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong
South Korean vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung

“The government regrets the North’s decision to pull out,” the vice unification minister told assembled media. “We hope that the inter-Korean joint liaison office will be normally operated, as agreed to between the two Koreas, when the North returns at the earliest possible time.”

The pullout follows what many believe to be the collapse of denuclearization negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

Pyongyang did not provide any specific reason for the withdrawal, he added, saying the North Korean staff had taken some documents with them. South Korean equipment remains at the office, he said.

Despite the pullout, South Korea plans to operate the office as usual over the weekend: a total of 25 ROK staff, including nine officials and 16 maintenance staff, will work at the facility on Saturday and Sunday.

“The South Korean office will continue its operations,” Chun said, stressing that Seoul will proceed with normal cross-border travel procedures “as usual” on Monday in discussion with the North.

The North Koreans “will not mind the South remaining in the office,” an accompanying unification ministry statement said, with the DPRK set to “notify” Seoul of “further practical matters in the future.”

When asked about the reason for the sudden withdrawal, the vice unification minister declined to make any comment, saying the North’s decision to withdraw would make the discussion of pending issues between the two Koreas “difficult.”

These include plans for video reunions between families separated by the Korean War, agreed to in September’s Pyongyang Joint Declaration.

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“The operation of the liaison office should be normalized expeditiously, and we will strive to have consultation over the issues without a long postponement,” he said.

Pyongyang is yet to respond to Seoul’s requests for their staff to return to the office, Chun added.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party rebuked the North for its “unilateral” withdrawal and raised questions over Moon’s capacity to mediate between Washington and Pyongyang.

The minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace called for the Seoul government to act quickly to grasp the North’s intentions and keep the situation from worsening.

North Korea withdraws staff from inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong

The minor Justice Party also called for Seoul’s “prudent yet swift” response in handling the situation.
South Korea on Friday withheld its approval of a request by a group of businesspeople to visit a shuttered industrial complex in the North’s border town of Kaesong.

Earlier this month, 179 people asked for government permission to visit the factory park to check equipment and facilities they left behind when the complex was closed in 2016 amid nuclear and missile tensions. It was their eighth attempt to visit there since the closure.

The Blue House also on Friday afternoon confirmed that the standing committee of South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) had been convened Friday by director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong to discuss the North’s decision to withdraw from the joint liaison office.

North and South Korea previously agreed to use the office to exchange contacts, hold working-level consultations, and support exchanges, cooperation, and joint events in numerous fields, an inter-Korean agreement read.

Between September and December, the office hosted a total of 327 meetings, including director-level and inter-Korean working-level talks, according to up-to-date data from the unification ministry.

Chun also on Friday confirmed that the two Koreas have not held what was originally meant to be a weekly director-level meeting at the joint liaison office for the past month.

The pause in meetings, which were previously held between liaison office directors vice minister Chun Hae-sung and vice-chairman of the DPRK Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Jon Jong Su, followed February’s surprise no-deal summit.

Although Chun visited the liaison office last Friday, weekly talks did not take place.

South Korean vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung told an emergency press briefing that it came to get difficult to make detailed discussions on the video reunions of Korean families, separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Seoul had prepared to consult with the DPRK on the video reunions and the exchange of video messages between the separated families as agreed upon by Moon and Kim during their third summit in Pyongyang last September.

South Korea recently won sanctions waiver from the UN Security Council to send necessary equipment to the DPRK for the video reunion event.

The families of the two Koreas have been banned from meeting and contacting their relatives on the other side of the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War ended with armistice in 1953.

Mary Greeley News

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