About the Author
JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
A South Korean civic group is planning to meet North Korean counterparts for the fourth time since last year, despite opposition from the South Korean government, the group’s representative told NK News on Tuesday.
Should the committee carry out the meeting, Seoul will take legal action against them, the Ministry of Unification (MoU) told NK News later on the same day.
“The June 15 South Korean Committee is at the vanguard of continuing the inter-Korean civic exchanges, and we are committed to doing so even at the minimal level,” Lee Seung-hwan, a South Korean representative of the group, told NK News.
“Despite North Korea’s nuclear issues and other matters, civic exchanges must be continued.”
Formed in 2005 to commemorate the South-North Joint Declaration of June 15, 2000, the joint committee was established at Mt. Kumgang, DPRK by representatives from both the South and the North.
Having carried out civil exchanges with the North for more than a decade, the South Korean side plans to take part in an ROK-DPRK joint meeting on February 7-8 in Shenyang, China, the same city where previous meetings have been held.
If the group does visit China, it will be its fourth meeting with North Korea officials since last year, when Seoul in January 2016 cracked down on inter-Korean civil exchanges in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test – conducted earlier in the same month.
Shortly before Lee’s comments, an unnamed official from the MoU announced to local media that the committee’s plan to visit the North – submitted to the ministry previously – will not be approved, and that current inter-Korean relations make it “not appropriate” for such an event to go ahead.
In defiance of the MoU, Lee attacked the ministry as a “monopoly,” adding that the civic exchanges should be carried out with the government’s “cooperation,” and not be so strictly controlled.
The committee refrained from sharing how it is planning to conduct the February visit.
Should they carry out the meeting, Seoul will take actions in line with South Korean “law and principle,” an official from the MoU told NK News on Tuesday afternoon.
Under South Korean law, meetings with North Koreans by South Koreans which are not preapproved by the MoU – especially if the meeting is pre-planned and has a clear agenda – are punishable by a penalty of up to three million Korean won ($US2,578).
South Korean members of this group have already been fined multiple times for unapproved meetings with North Koreans last year, with their first in May, the second in October, and the third in late November to early December.
In May last year, North Korean state media slammed Seoul’s legal actions against the members, describing it as an “anti-Unification Fascist outrage,” in an editorial in Workers’ Party organ Rodong Sinmun.
Featured Image: June 15 South Korean Committee‘s official Facebook