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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The South Korean government has decided to disallow four citizens belonging to a national labor union from visiting the DPRK for an upcoming inter-Korean event, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) said on Thursday.
The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC) is set to hold a two-day inter-Korean event at Mount Kumgang this weekend with its North Korean counterpart, the Consultative Council for National Reconciliation (CCNR).
The late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s son Kim Hong-gul, who accompanied Moon Jae-in as a special entourage member during the fifth inter-Korean summit in September, serves as head of the KCRC.
An official at the KCRC confirmed to NK News on Thursday that more than 300 South Koreans had asked Seoul’s permission to travel to the DPRK for the event.
But four of those applicants – all officials from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) – were on Wednesday informed they would not be permitted to go.
“We’ve taken the measures comprehensively considering the purpose of visit to North Korea, characteristic of an event, and consultation with relevant organizations,” an official from Ministry of Unification (MOU) — who wished to remain anonymous — said in a closed-door briefing.
The four are former chairman of the KCTU Han Sang-gyun, incumbent vice-chairperson Um Mi-kyung, and the directors of the union’s Busan and Daejeon regional offices.
Han was arrested and subsequently sentenced in 2016, accused of leading an illegal protest. He was released on parole this May.
KCTU and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) — the South’s two major umbrella labor unions — originally planned to dispatch a delegation of around 30 members to hold a meeting with North Korean workers at Mount Kumgang on the sidelines of the inter-Korean event.
In a press statement, the KCTU on Thursday claimed that the Moon administration had “unilaterally informed us of its stance to disallow the visit to North Korea,” without providing any detailed reasons.
The trade union said that all members of the planned delegation would now boycott the inter-Korean event in protest, calling on the South Korean government to “retract its decision to selectively disapprove the visit to North Korea.”
The move, the KCTU continued, ran counter to the spirit of April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to encourage the atmosphere of amity and cooperation by actively staging various joint events with participation of central and local governments, parliaments, political parties, civil organizations among others.
This is not the first time that KCTU members have been disallowed from visiting the North.
Seoul in June disallowed five South Korean citizens from visiting Pyongyang for an inter-Korean meeting of chairmen from the Committee for the Implementation of the June 15 Joint Declaration.
KCTU vice-chairperson Um Mi-kyung was one of five people rejected for that visit.
The trade union was also not included in a 160-member South Korean delegation which traveled to Pyongyang for an inter-Korean event marking the 11th anniversary of the October 4 inter-Korean Declaration last month.
FKTU’s general secretary Lee Sung-kyung visited the North as a member of the delegation, however.
KCTU and FKTU and the DPRK General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea (GFTUK) also held inter-Korean workers’ soccer games and talks in Seoul in August.
Edited by Oliver Hotham