The South Korean government is reviewing “diverse measures” that could allow its citizens more easily visit North Korea, a spokesperson for Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) suggested on Friday, including potentially allowing them to be issued visas by Pyongyang.
In comments that comes amid an ongoing stalemate in cooperation between the two Koreas — and the North’s threats last year to demolish South Korean-owned facilities at the once-jointly operated Mount Kumgang Resort — a ministry spokesperson appeared to partially confirm earlier reports by the Dong-A Ilbo.
Those reports cited an unnamed government official as saying that although North Korea does not currently issue visas to South Korean citizens, Seoul was “preparing measures” that would allow its citizens to visit the North in case of a change of heart from Pyongyang.
“It is our consistent stance that sanctions against North Korea to not apply to independent tours,” Kim Eun-han, the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, told a regular briefing on Friday, saying that Seoul would be open to allowing its citizens to visit the North if their “safety can be guaranteed.”
Asked about the Dong-A Ilbo report, Kim said that the government was reviewing “diverse” ideas to facilitate more visits by its citizens, while clarifying that it would be “premature” to say that any such measures would be implemented in the near future or to say whether the rules would apply only to members of divided families or the entire population.
Speaking to NK News later on Friday, an official from the MOU said that visits by South Koreans to the North were typically arranged through invitation from Pyongyang first, after which the visitors applied for formal permission from the DPRK.
Currently South Korean law also requires citizens to obtain written approval from the unification minister before making contact with North Koreans or visiting the country.
A prolonged deadlock in the DPRK-U.S. talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program since February last year has spilled over into inter-Korean relations, with Seoul reluctant to split too publicly from the U.S. or to openly flout international sanctions against Pyongyang.
Speaking earlier in the week, however, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he was willing to step-up efforts to resume inter-Korean tourism, largely on hold since the shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier at the Mount Kumgang resort in 2008.
Friday saw the unification ministry spokesperson stress that the two Koreas had already “agreed” to work towards reopening tourism to that site at a summit in Pyongyang in September 2018.
Pyongyang and Seoul are currently “in discussions” on the issue, he added, while admitting to “differences in stance” and continued concerns about “guaranteeing the South Korean visitors’ safety.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham