NATIONAL

N. Korean delegates arrive in Seoul for Olympic closing ceremony amid protest

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Feb 25, 2018 - 15:44
  • Updated : Feb 25, 2018 - 15:44

North Korea’s high-level delegation arrived Sunday to attend the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics amid mounting criticism that the visit is led by a combative general accused of orchestrating attacks on South Korea.

Vice Chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol crossed the border at around 9:50 a.m. via a land route, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said. Accompanying Kim was Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification, and six other members.

After being greeted by Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, the eight-member delegation headed toward Seoul by taking a detour to avoid a protest by the main opposition party, which has been staging a sit-in since Saturday to deny his entry to the South.

“It seems to me that Kim Yong-chul used a dog hole to enter South Korea,” said Rep. Hong Jun-pyo, chairman of the Liberty Korea Party. “Our party members and the people will not make Kim’s stay comfortable.” 

Greeted by South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung (left), North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol (center) on Sunday crossed the border to South Korea along with Ri Son-gwon (right), chairman of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification. Yonhap

The conservative party has accused Kim of masterminding attacks on South Korea, including the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010. Kim was then in charge of the General Reconnaissance Bureau, which oversees clandestine operations against South Korea.

Asked by reporters how he viewed the visit and whether he was sorry for the Cheonan sinking, Kim remained mum. His silence continued until the delegates reached a hotel in Seoul where they will stay until they return home on Tuesday.

During the three-day trip, Kim and his delegates will meet with President Moon Jae-in for talks on inter-Korean relations. Separate dialogues are expected to take place between the North’s delegates and the South’s Cabinet members, including Unification Minister Cho Myung-kyun and chief of the National Intelligence Service Suh Hoon.

Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said Moon would meet with the North Korean delegates “in a natural manner,” hinting that there would be separate meetings outside of the closing ceremony, which President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump was to attend.

While the Trump administration has dismissed the possibility of direct talks between the US and North Korea, speculation persists that there may be some exploratory interactions as diplomats tasked with bilateral relations were among the delegates.

Despite criticisms over Kim’s visit, the government has reiterated that there is no problem in discussing inter-Korean relations with Kim as he now represents the North’s United Front Department, which manages relations with South Korea.

In meetings with lawmakers last week, Minister Cho and the National Intelligence Service said that it is difficult to pinpoint the blame on Kim for the Cheonan sinking, saying further confirmation is needed to determine whether Kim gave direct orders to attack the warship.

Although the Cheonan vessel was torpedoed by North Korea in 2010, there is a “limitation to specifically pinpoint who should be accountable for sinking Cheonan and thus it is hard to confirm Kim’s involvement,” the Unification Ministry said in a report Friday.

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)